Betrayal of pit communities

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IT WOULD be disingenuous to blame past and present Tory governments for today’s depressing report which highlights the level of deprivation still being endured by former coalfield communities 30 years after the Miners’ Strike – and nearly a quarter of a century after Michael Heseltine’s pit closure programme.

IT WOULD be disingenuous to blame past and present Tory governments for today’s depressing report which highlights the level of deprivation still being endured by former coalfield communities 30 years after the Miners’ Strike – and nearly a quarter of a century after Michael Heseltine’s pit closure programme.

In many respects, the social and economic hardship that has been highlighted by researchers from Sheffield Hallam University is the consequence of the collective failure of Britain’s political elite, including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s administrations, to attract sufficient private sector investment to those areas that lost their soul when the mines closed.

There will, of course, be some on the political left who will use this report to vilify Margaret Thatcher for taking on the Arthur Scargill-led National Union of Mineworkers 30 years ago, but such historical arguments are unlikely to help in the here and now when the overriding need is to end the cycle of unemployment that now spans generations.

If this means providing greater incentives for firms to relocate to these areas, then the Government should consider doing so. Yes, a record number of people are now in employment – but the availability of jobs in former mining areas is still below the national average.

Though this report concentrates on levels of deprivation, ill-health and unemployment, it is also a powerful reminder of the need to drive up education standards and skills training across the country to reflect the changing dynamics of industry. This also applies to those households whose standards of living have not kept pace with the rest of the economy. While the de facto response of Labour is usually to blame the Tories, and vice versa, individuals will struggle to succeed unless they are prepared to enhance their skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the digital age.

Passport poser

Who is to blame for backlog?

THERESA MAY’S apology to Parliament over the passport fiasco will probably be insufficient to appease those whose travel and holiday plans have been inconvenienced.

The Home Office was certainly slow to acknowledge the scale of the backlog, though it should be remembered that the majority of applications have been handled within prescribed time limits.

Yet, while Labour’s Yvette Cooper has been quick to blame the Home Secretary, the real culprit is, in fact, Passport Office boss Paul Pugh, who did not respond swiftly enough when there was a surge in the number of applications – a by-product of the improving economic climate.

This is his day-to-day job – Mrs May has far more wide-ranging responsibilities – and it should have been his remit to flag up any issues pertaining to staff resources and so on.

At some point, well-remunerated public sector bosses need to provide a standard of service that is commensurate with their salaries, and Mr Pugh is no exception.

He could not have been more unconvincing when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee when Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, revealed that he had to text Mrs May for Mr Pugh’s personal contact number because no one in his office was answering the telephone. This at a time when the Passport Office was supposed to be working round-the-clock to deal with the backlog.

If Mrs May has erred, it is with her decision to give Mr Pugh the benefit of the doubt. For, having presided over this mess, is he still the right man to rectify his agency’s failings?

National treasure

Parks must embrace volunteers

EVEN THOUGH Britain’s national parks are the envy of the world, they are not immune from the necessary pruning of the public sector finances, hence the desire of the North York Moors to harness the energy and enthusiasm of retired people who are prepared to volunteer their services.

Such public-spirited individuals are invariably the eyes and ears of their local community and will be only too happy to make a contribution – or highlight those footpaths which are in need of maintenance.

Yet, in many respects, everyone should regard themselves as guardians of national parks like the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District and contribute, wherever possible, towards their upkeep – whether it be volunteering time or making a donation.

For, unless the park authorities can stretch their scarce resources even further, these landscapes will lose the charm and tranquillity which is at the heart of their international appeal.