PENSIONS: SINCE I retired in 1994 my council tax has risen by over 105 per cent. During that time the joint income of my wife and myself has risen by less than 65 per cent, and that includes the £200 winter fuel allowance.

It is time we pensioners stood up to be counted in the struggle to get a fairer share of the cake.

Surely, with the example of The Jarrow Marchers to inspire us, we pensioners in the North-East ought to be in the forefront of the battle to save our living standards.

If one man from Devon and another from Hampshire can stand up to their councils, there ought to be enough pensioners from this area to show them they are not alone. Come on, let's get together and show what we are made of.

Is it any wonder that we feel cheated, not only by the Government, but also by local councils? - DC Elsom, Annfield Plain.


THE Government is proposing that Parliament agrees to a Constitution for the European Union.

The issues involved are of massive significance for the future of our country. This Constitution is a great leap towards a United States of Europe. The present plan certainly is not 'a tidying up operation'. That description must qualify as one of the most idiotic remarks ever made by a Minister of the Crown.

Tony Blair's claim that the constitution 'does not alter the fundamental relationship between the EU and the member states' is untrue. The culture of spin and deceit is alive and well - yet again Downing Street's claims, when examined, are found to be wholly incredible.

If the Constitution goes ahead without radical and major amendments, then, in the interests of both our nation and Europe, we should say no. This will not be the end of the world or of the European Union. Things would merely revert to their present pattern and a new and more democratic way forward would emerge - for a Europe of equals, not a European superstate.

There is nothing in the Government proposals about letting the British people decide whether they want a Euro Constitution. The vast majority of the British public want a referendum. Other countries are getting referendums. We will not relent until Tony Blair gives the British people a referendum.

If Labour is confident that the British people want vast powers - from asylum to employment rights to economic management - transferred to Brussels, they should trust the people enough to let them decide in a referendum. - Jeremy Middleton, Prospective Conservative Candidate, European Parliament.


FOR Nick Raynsford, the Minister for Local Government (Echo, Sept 24) to support the case for the suggested regional assembly to be housed in Durham City seems to be counting his chickens before they are hatched.

Before a regional assembly can be set up there has to be a referendum on the issue, expected to be held in the autumn of next year.

There will need to be a substantial number of votes in favour, the exact number Mr Raynsford has refused to say, before the Government will agree to the setting up of a regional assembly.

Whilst small groups of political activists are in favour of an assembly, among the general public there is enormous apathy. The evidence for this is that in South Tyneside, with a population of 154,000, only 33 people wrote in or completed a form on the Internet saying they were in favour of holding a referendum, never mind setting one up. The Tynedale District Council issued a questionnaire: only 243 bothered to reply, 80 per cent of these voted against holding a referendum.

It was originally thought it would cost £25m each year to run, this has now been increased to £30m. I am not too sure that the people of Durham City, or those in the rest of the region, will welcome more expensive politicians and officials filling up offices at the expense of the already overburdened council tax payer. - Stan Smith, South Shields.


IF you or someone you love suffers from poor health due to air pollution, then the Government's transport policy is a living nightmare.

By not cutting traffic on our roads, the Government is threatening lives and the environment. Our roads are insanely overloaded but all New Labour can do is instigate road-building schemes.

We already pay a tragic price for our over-dependence on road transport. An area the size of Leicestershire is now taken up with roads (many vital wildlife habitats have been lost forever); 3,750 people die in road accidents each year; road congestion costs industry £20bn each year; road transport produces a fifth of our emissions of lethal carbon dioxide; traffic dangerously hampers children's freedom to play etc, etc.

What kind of Government ignores the true human, environmental and economic costs of traffic growth? It is time to hand back the running of the nation to caring individuals. - Aled Jones, Bridlington.