December 8: HS2 – Ministers to backtrack?

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FIRST rail electrification. Now HS2. It does not bode well for the future credibility of the Government’s transport policy in the North, and its direction of travel, that a major U-turn could be looming on the construction of the proposed high-speed railway line from Leeds and Sheffield to London.

Like the upgrading of the TransPennine railway line which was much hyped by the Tories prior to the election before being put on “pause” when concerns about Network Rail’s management came to light, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s latest utterances on HS2 do not correlate with his party’s Yorkshire manifesto which was launched in April in a bid to woo voters in the North’s key marginals.

For the record, a document called The Conservative Plan for Working People in Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire could not have been clearer. Unveiled by David Cameron, it specifically said the “Leeds to Sheffield Meadowhall section” would be made a priority so this region could receive the full benefits of HS2 at the earliest opportunity.

Unfortunately, no one appears to have told Mr McLoughlin, who said during a visit to Leeds that such matters were, in fact, for Sir David Higgins who is overseeing the biggest civil engineering project ever undertaken in the UK.

It is understandable that Mr McLoughlin should be circumspect – Ministers are duty-bound to keep a lid on costs. However they also need to recognise that the Transport Secretary’s ambivalence will play into the hands of those who believe that the Tories exaggerated their pre-election promises and will now, once back in office, prioritise the interests of London over those of the rest of the country. It’s now up to Ministers to prove the doubters wrong. In doing so, they would be advised to remember that actions speak louder than words.

Food for thought

The importance of self-esteem

THAT demand for food banks is poised to reach record levels will inevitably spark a polarised political debate about social policy in the UK. The Tories will argue that the emergence of organisations, like the Trussell Trust, is evidence of compassionate Conservatism in practice while Labour contend that the Government continues to betray all those living in poverty.

However this political battle of wills should not lose sight of the fact that it is surely better for there to be food banks – the generosity of Yorkshire residents and businesses continues to inspire – where the impoverished and needy can seek emergency assistance without being made to feel like a social pariah. It’s also important that the allocation of provisions is kept separate from the Department of Work and Pensions.

That said, Ministers do have a moral duty to ensure that welfare reforms and budget reductions continue to be implemented sensitively and respect any mitigating factors which may have impinged upon an individual’s particular circumstances. The One Nation politics espoused by David Cameron does mean reaching out to all sections of society and offering hope, where possible, to the poor and vulnerable.

Yet it would also be beneficial if the Government could find a way, without resorting to New Labour’s “nanny state” tendencies, of making low income families in particular aware of the importance of healthy eating and how simple freshly-cooked meals can often cost a lot less than a diet of ready-made ones and also serve up that most important ingredient of all – self-esteem.

On the front line

The crucial role of crime tsars

UNLIKE 2012 when the advent of police and crime commissioners received an apathetic response from voters who were unsure of the remit, there will be no such excuses when the next elections take place.

As the Government is forced to bow to public pressure and recalculate its botched budgets on police funding, the need for crime tsars to protect the interests of law-abiding residents has never been greater. They have also been effective in holding police chiefs to account.

In this regard, it is significant that Mike Pannett, a former policeman and popular author, has announced his intention to stand in North Yorkshire. Not only will his candidature help to raise awareness about this role, but it might encourage others with experience of the criminal justice system to do likewise. After all, it was the Home Secretary’s wish that PCCs should not be dominated by the influence of the main political parties, and which is precisely what happened.