A MANIFESTO for the North East has been created as hundreds of people come together to build a better society.
Over the last year, talks have been held to look at how the problems facing the region can be tackled, with concerned families, major employers, senior politicians, university heads and church leaders all taking part.
Today the group unveils its January Manifesto setting out a list of changes, both big and small, the region needs to improve its economy and its health.
The initiative comes from a group of concerned people living in the region who a year ago, in The Journal, launched the January Declaration to address poverty and inequality.
By the end of 2012, 350 people from the region, including the Bishop of Durham, had signed-up to the founding principles of the Declaration based on fairness and respect for all, regardless of income and status.
It followed what the campaigners called widespread recognition that the region has serious problems.
A weak economy, unemployment is above the national average, low paid jobs and a high number of part-time jobs were all contributing to long-term hardship and too few prospects for young people.
The manifesto will be built around four immediate steps as well as a more detailed call for regional leadership.
The campaigners hope to persuade employers to pay a living wage, get all organisations to publish the ratio of the average of the three highest paid employees to the three lowest paid in their annual reports, encourage everyone to enrol with a doctor and dentist and to develop a register of apprenticeships.
Research behind the manifesto highlighted the need for a “North East poverty and inequality forum”, which would monitor bodies such as the region’s two Local Enterprise Partnerships, that have the responsibility to develop the North East economy.
The group suggests that, with the abolition of the regional development agency, One North East, these partnerships should take more responsibility for marketing the region and working with inward investors.
One of the seven main players behind the manifesto is Northern Rock Foundation chairman Alastair Balls.
He said now was the right time for the region to try to take control of its destiny.
He added: “The cuts may not all be bad if we can use them to innovate and find mutual solutions to old problems.
“The manifesto sets out a number of actions individuals, groups and our organisations can take.
“We need to stop blaming other people and recognise that the vast majority of unemployed people want to work. We have the power within the region to reduce poverty and inequality rather than looking to people from the outside to fix things for us. In 2013, we must start to use this power.”
Former Nexus chief Mike Parker said: “Such a positive response to the declaration, as well as the number of individuals – including the Archbishop of Canterbury-designate Justin Welby, outgoing Bishop of Durham – who participated in the various discussions and debates we organised exceeded all our expectations.”
He was backed by group member and Newcastle councillor Jane Streather, who said: “The next stage is to persuade those particular organisations to act as suggested in the manifesto, to encourage groups to organize these campaigns and to cajole individuals to participate and act themselves.
“While the manifesto should be the catalyst we hope many of those who signed the declaration will volunteer to help us do this.”
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