Lib Dems and rural betrayal

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Have your say

DESPITE its imperfections, this coalition has been far more stable than many commentators envisaged in May 2010 when David Cameron and Nick Clegg formed an unprecedented political pact. It has been prepared to take tough and necessary decisions on the public finances and the economy is now on an upward trajectory, even though the rate of growth in Yorkshire is still failing to keep pace with London’s renewed buoyancy and optimism.

DESPITE its imperfections, this coalition has been far more stable than many commentators envisaged in May 2010 when David Cameron and Nick Clegg formed an unprecedented political pact. It has been prepared to take tough and necessary decisions on the public finances and the economy is now on an upward trajectory, even though the rate of growth in Yorkshire is still failing to keep pace with London’s renewed buoyancy and optimism.

However, tensions do still remain in the corridors of power. Senior Lib Dems have accused Mr Clegg, the Sheffield Hallam MP, of failing to exert sufficient influence on certain issues while some Conservatives complain that their junior coalition powers are holding back reforms such as free schools.

This is reflected by the intervention of former local government Minister Bob Neill. A man who did not go out of his way to court controversy when in office, he now says Tory attempts to reconfigure the public finances, and recognise the special needs of rural areas, were blocked by the Lib Dems who were “more concerned with protecting the position of metropolitan areas” like Sheffield, home to Mr Clegg.

If Mr Neill’s assertion is correct, it does not reflect well on the Lib Dems and their modus operandi. After all, the party’s many MPs in the South West, a region comparable to North Yorkshire, are among the most vociferous at Westminster when it comes to demanding fairer funding for countryside areas.

Of course, the financial shift envisaged by the likes of Mr Neill and Graham Stuart, the Beverley and Holderness MP, will not happen overnight – the finances still need to be kept in check. But it is clear that the existing grant arrangements are unfair and do not recognise the cost of providing essential services in rural communities. Why should they be penalised because some Ministers are prepared to put their own party interests before those of the rest of the country?

The simple truth is that it will require an independent body, like the Office of Budget Responsibility, to come up with reforms. And, regrettably, that is unlikely to happen in the near future because the status quo favours the main parties – they know the next election will be won and lost in predominantly urban seats.

Top of the shops

A vote of confidence in Yorkshire

THE striking new artist’s impressions of the forthcoming Victoria Gate shopping complex in Leeds confirm that the development will be another feather in the city’s cap, one that builds on the success of the recently-completed Trinity centre and which also strengthens Leeds’s status as one of the country’s leading retail destinations.

Crucially, however, this venture will also be harnessed as a vehicle for providing opportunities for local people, which at a time of continued austerity is absolutely essential.

To this end, Leeds City Council’s employment and skills service is working closely with developers Hammerson and newly-appointed contractors Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd to ensure that opportunities for jobs and training are available to the local workforce. A careers fair will be held in early April for individuals wanting to find out more, with vacancies being advertised via the council service.

There has been much talk of the death of the traditional high street, but this £150m project is a strong show of commitment to the retail heart of Leeds, as opposed to investing in an anonymous-looking out-of-town retail park.

The presence of a four-storey John Lewis department store as the scheme’s anchor retailer is an attractive lure that should bring benefits to the city centre as a whole in terms of increased footfall when it opens in Autumn 2016.

Yet there continues to be a need for fresh ideas and investment in those retail centres that lie outside the middle of the city as well.

Small, independent businesses are the beating heart of local communities and are therefore neglected by local and national government at their peril.

Winning dividend

Co-op must earn respect and trust

WITH many of the major banks still persona non grata, the Co-operative Group should have been well-positioned to exploit this breakdown in public trust – the movement has been embedded in communities across the Yorkshire and the North for the past 150 years and had avoided the opprobrium directed at those instiutions which exacerbated the credit crunch.

Yet the Co-op is now fighting to regain lost credibility after its former chairman, the Reverend Paul Flowers, became embroiled in a number of embarrassing sleaze allegations and mismanagement led to the Group undergoing a £1.5bn rescue which saw majority control turned over to investors, including US hedge funds. A rebuilding exercise can only begin once an organisation acknowledges its difficulties, and group chief executive Euan Sutherland has now done so. It is also significant that his new consultation exercise asks members whether they still support the Co-op’s £1m annual donation to the Labour Party – nothing should be off limits if this “have your day” exercise is to command respect and trust, two traits which have been in short supply in recent times.