RONNIE CAMPBELL'S message to Tony Blair yesterday was typically blunt. The Blyth Valley MP, who chairs the Northern Group of Labour MPs, said: ''I would tell him to get his head out of the sand and have another look at the North-East and other regions...that are just being ignored."

Mr Blair's Government has not buried its head completely to ignore the North/South divide, but when it has raised it above the parapet, it has looked considerably confused.

Sometimes it says it is governing for the country as whole; then it tries to win back its heartlands, and then it says there might be a North/South divide but it isn't sure because it is concentrating on the gaps within regions rather the divide between them.

There shouldn't be any confusion. Yesterday's report was the fourth major attempt this year alone at showing the Government the full picture. Earlier this year, a report equated the economy of the North-East to those of Hungary and Chile, and another found that the region's best-performing area - Stockton - was still seven per cent below the national average. The worst performing, County Durham, was 15 per cent below.

In April, the European Commission revised its "assisted status" map, and included 26 new North-East areas, including some in Sedgefield.

The MP for Sedgefield is right to point out there are as many gaps within regions as there are between regions. But in the south those gaps look like pockets of poverty surrounded by oceans of prosperity; in the north, they look like seas of disappointment with a few well-to-do islands poking up hopefully.

Of course the North-East must be wary about talking itself down. If it continually bleats about how grim it is, investors will be put off and the situation will become bleaker still.

But Mr Blair must also be wary of making more comments such as his one about the "the politics of division" with which he greeted the last report with. He then said: "Instead of dealing with the real challenge - the common goals - the North ends up thinking the South is the problem."

He should turn it around. The South has a problem with the North. While the South-East booms, it will continue to suck in Northerners in search of jobs. They will bring more cars to further choke the region's roads; they will want more homes to further cover the region's fast-disappearing fields. What the South needs is a thriving North.

Then Mr Blair will be able to treat the South/North divide as a national problem. And he will be able to make one obvious change: reforming the Barnett Formula so that the North-East has at least a fair and fighting chance of turning the tide