May 13: Why Yorkshire must come first

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DAVID Cameron is right – the Cabinet will not be forgiven if it does not deliver its key manifesto promises after the Conservative Party’s unexpected election win.

Yet, while the Prime Minister’s first major regional visit after his 2010 victory was to Shipley to highlight the North’s economic potential and importance, it was significant that Stockton South should have hosted the PM following a meeting of the new-look Cabinet.

A top Labour target seat which the Tories won with a much increased majority, its MP, James Wharton, has now been handed responsibility for implementing the so-called Northern Powerhouse strategy – another signal of intent on the part of Mr Cameron’s desire to govern as a ‘One Nation’ leader and reach out to those areas where the Conservatives have still to make their case.

This has to be a Government which delivers the transport and infrastructure improvements so this region can become a net contributor to the economy. This means, for example, tangible improvements to train travel while high-speed rail plans are advanced – and the roll-out of superfast broadband being accelerated. Second best is no longer good enough for Yorkshire.

In this regard, Greg Clark’s appointment as Communities and Local Government Secretary is significant. He has been a passionate champion of Yorkshire’s cities. He will also be less confrontational, and more conciliatory, than his plain-speaking predecessor Eric Pickles. However he remains committed to elected mayors – still a stumbling block in Leeds and Sheffield – and his department faces significant funding cuts because it has not been afforded protected status. Having raised expectations, and then won a mandate, Mr Cameron’s team must now deliver as it leads Britain from a period of “repair and recovery” into a new era of “renewal”.

New opportunities

NEARLY two decades after Tony Blair transformed the Labour Party’s electoral fortunes with his ‘education, education, education’ mantra, it speaks volumes about the money – and talent – that has been squandered when Britain trails 19 nations, including the likes of Slovenia, Poland, Estonia and Vietnam, when it comes to key skills.

Yet, as the latest OECD report highlights, this also provides David Cameron’s government with a golden opportunity to press ahead with those school reforms that will enhance the country’s future prosperity so Britain is home to the brightest and best pupils in the world. There are three obvious lessons that need to be heeded.

First, the success and failure of all schools, irrespective of their status, depend on the quality of teaching, a point lost on those Ministers whose bombastic approach has alienated so many in the education profession. A change of mindset is long-overdue.

Secondly, primary schools hold the key to attainment. If youngsters do not grasp basic skills at the outset of their education, they will almost certainly struggle in later life. Unfortunately the one party who recognised this, the Lib Dems, are now out of government.

Finally, the relationship between schools and businesses needs to be far more productive and energising – the life experiences of leaders in industry and commerce has the potential to enliven lessons.

In this regard, Ministers need to remember that money, and political hype, cannot buy success. However a captivating curriculum can make a difference.

A sting in the tail

FOR some they may seem little more than airborne annoyances with a sting in the tail.

Yet bees play a vitally important role in our ecosystem – one we are only now truly appreciating.

It has been estimated that one mouthful in every three in our diets directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.

The invertebrate conservation charity Buglife – yes, there is such a thing – says this amounts to 84 per cent of all EU crops worth more than £12bn.

It means that rather than being relieved that falling bee numbers might make for a summer of less swatting, it should be a matter of utmost concern.

Thankfully, there are ways to reverse the decline. Gardens can and should be grown with pollinators such as bees and hoverflies in mind.

Yet the greatest onus must be on the region’s farmers, not least because they will face considerable additional costs in growing crops without these natural pollinators.