It's time to stop the rot
The results of the 2001 National Census were released yesterday, and they paint a worrying - but at the same time all-too-familiar - picture of life in the North.
While the bald statistics do the region few favours - and may well be at odds with how many people who live here regard life in the region - they are a valuable indication of how things could so easily be better.
We fare badly in terms of health, education and employment compared to the rest of the country and our population continues to gradually decline.
The 72,000 people who have left the region in the last 10 years represents 2.8pc of the 2,515,000 population, and the effect of that is the likelihood of even less Government cash for vital town hall services like education, social services and job-creation in future.
This is the North/South divide in action.
This is the result of our 30 years on the wrong end of a spending system - the infamous Barnett Formula - which positively discriminates against the North-East in every way, despite it having been proven to be unfair and it even being disowned by its creator.
Yesterday's figures are also a monument to the political cowardice of a government which is terrified of being seen to take money from Scotland to redress the balance.
It also highlights New Labour's refusal to address the overheating economy in the South-East - and its subsequent effects on the balance of the national economy - which is paralysing regions like the North-East. The message is simple. New Labour is ignoring one of its traditional heartlands for political reasons.
As recently as December, it threw away the chance to redress the balance in favour of a cosmetic tinkering exercise with the way the national tax cake is shared. The winners were in the Midlands where the Government has a rather large number of marginal seats.
Our long-standing problems cannot, of course, all be laid at the door of the Right Honourable Member for Sedgefield but he and his Government have had ample time to make inroads into them.
We repeat. The North-East is not asking for "special" treatment. We simply want the Government to provide a level playing field.
We can do the rest ourselves.
It is not all gloom and doom. We have talented people, an adaptable workforce, a strong regional identity and ambition.
Look at what has been achieved in spite of these central Government-created problems.
Newcastle and Gateshead are strong contenders to be European Capital of Culture in 2008. We are willing to take control of our own affairs through a regional assembly. For many, the "quality" of life here far exceeds that of many in more prosperous regions.
There is much to look forward to.
The future would, however, look much rosier if Mr Blair was prepared to act over the inequalities which continue to handicap us.
We live in hope.
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