January 16: High-speed rail cost warning

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IT WOULD be remiss of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee not to highlight its concerns over the cost of high-speed rail – the list of infrastructure projects not built on time, and on budget, is already a lengthy one before the Government embarks on the most complex civil engineering projects that has ever been undertaken in this country.

From the weight of evidence which has been accrued by the influential committee over the years, it is imperative that lessons are learned – that familiar mantra after every critical report about the cost of transport schemes spiralling out of control – and put in place before the same mistakes are repeated on an even larger scale.

Yet it is also critical that the Department for Transport, and others, do not allow the main HS2 artery to be built in isolation to other rail improvement projects. It is vital that there is joined-up planning if there is to be a close correlation between super-fast services linking Britain’s major cities and the suburban routes that will be able to enjoy increased capacity as a result of new railway lines being built.

Yorkshire is critical to this. After it was confirmed that Leeds and Sheffield would be integral to HS2, Ministers have signalled their intention to build HS3 – a high-speed line linking West Yorkshire with Manchester as part of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.

Yet, while both schemes are belated, and welcome, recognition that the North’s rail infrastructure needs to be overhauled if the region’s wider economy is to prosper and compete with London, there are opportunities to keep budgets on track if HS2 and HS3 are built in tandem in these parts. The Department for Transport must remain open to ideas on how to maximise high-speed rail’s economic return so it does not become a giant “white elephant” because officials failed to plan ahead with sufficient foresight. It has been warned.

Unwinnable war?

Porous borders aid traffickers

ONE of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world, human trafficking is about more than the smuggling of people from one country to another.

At its heart it is the exploitation and control of the vulnerable, who are forced to endure often unimaginable hardship as a result. Essentially, it offers proof that slavery is not just alive, but thriving.

The difficulty in combating human trafficking is that its victims are often hidden in plain sight. They walk the streets, staff local shops, work in restaurants and are trapped in brothels. Now society is waking up to the scale of this menace. A couple of months ago 41 suspected victims were rescued in Bradford in the biggest operation of its kind in West Yorkshire. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Now a dedicated unit of detectives has been formed to tackle slavery gangs, working both locally and nationally to target organised crime lords seeking to traffic people into the county.

Undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it follows Theresa May’s draft bill on modern slavery which has finally acknowledged the scale of the issue and the need to address it.

As the Home Secretary says: “Modern slavery is an affront not just to the dignity and humanity of the individuals crushed by it, but of every single one of us.”

As laudable as this is, however, the first line of defence against such criminals is to ensure that they find it all but impossible to illegally smuggle people into this country in the first place.

Until Britain shores up its porous borders, the war on human traffickers will remain next to unwinnable.

Top of the class

Computing replaces English

THERE are two ways of looking at the study which suggests that computing has replaced English as children’s favourite school subject. The first is to grow wistful for the days when the syllabus was packed with the likes of Shakespeare, Dickens and Hardy, with the teacher reading the text aloud.

The other – and perhaps more sensible – perspective to take is that technology will not stand still in a rapidly changing world. It is therefore of utmost importance that today’s youngsters are equipped with the requisite knowledge to flourish when they leave school.

That is not to say that English as a subject is on the way out. Indeed, the advent of gadgets such as the Kindle has made reading more accessible.

But parents and teachers do need to remind children of the importance of language in all its forms, whether it be essays or computer code. Could a campaign under the hashtag #WeloveEnglish help with this mission?