A FAMILIAR picture of the region's economic and social deprivation was revealed yesterday - including the highest death rate in the country.

Falling house prices and low standards of education are once again the hallmarks of the North-East, according to a newly-released report.

The data was unveiled by regional development agency One NorthEast and the North-East Assembly, in the 17th State of the Region Profile Report.

It showed that the labour market in the North-East is the weakest in Britain, with only two thirds of its residents in employment.

And while there are more 16-year-olds involved in education, the region still has the lowest average wage in the country.

But there was good news for patients needing hospital treatment, with waiting times for appointments down by 4.7 per cent.

The comprehensive report was carried out by Tyne and Wear Research and Information.

At the report's launch in Newcastle, development bosses said they were confident funding and initiatives in place would bolster the region's economic prospects.

Mike Collier, chief executive of One NorthEast, said: "Quite clearly, the region is not going to be spared from global changes, but we are seeing real improvements.

"The way we're imagining is to have a much more diverse economy, less reliant on a handful of big industries."

The report showed crime was down 4.6 per cent in 1999-2000, compared with the previous year.

Trade abroad looked healthy, with the volume of goods being sold to Europe increasing by almost a half.

Mr Collier said the "overheating of the South" with congestion and spiralling house prices, would provide the North with potential.

The best safeguard for the future was to invest in education, he said.

The report will be used to press for more funding from the Government. Bosses also revealed they had entered talks with their colleagues in the North-West, and Yorkshire and Humberside to lobby for more cash over the South.

Bob Gibson, vice-chairman of the North-East Assembly, said the areas might find common issues on which they could lobby jointly.