THE DIRECTION of travel is now becoming clearer if Yorkshire’s economic revival is to continue gathering pace. Not only do this county’s political and business leaders need to pull together, but there is growing recognition that this region’s future is now intrinsically linked to the upturn under way in the North West and that improvements to trans-Pennine rail links are already long-overdue.
George Osborne has already acknowledged this and his ‘Northern powerhouse’ blueprint includes a high-speed railway from Leeds to Manchester. Yet this is a long-term aspiration – issues of cost and the construction challenge posed by Saddleworth Moor – are still be the overcome and regular rail travellers are right to seek more immediate action to ease chronic overcrowding.
As the Centre for Studies think-tank makes clear today, rush-hour services between these cities do not compare favourably – both in terms of the frequency and the length of trains – to those that operate at peak times between Milton Keynes and London following major improvements to the West Coast Main Line which have significantly increased capacity.
Unfortunately, decades of under-investment in this region’s antiquated railways mean it is simply not possible to introduce more frequent services. The network is already operating at capacity – public safety is non-negotiable – and there’s simply not spare rolling stock available which can be brought into service.
That said, the current renegotiation of the trans-Pennine Express does provide a very timely opportunity for the Government to make a series of demands to the new franchise-holder to provide additional carriages and improve reliability.
With 75 per cent of Britain’s train operators now foreign-owned, and the beneficiaries of generous subsidies from the Treasury, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin needs to remind these firms that they’re supposed to be providing a public service – and passengers have a right to deserve better. For, if he fails do so, it will be even harder to get Yorkshire’s economy back on track and begin to narrow the North-South divide.
Tories in new snub to women
TORY ACTIVISTS in North Yorkshire clearly hold business entrepreneur Rishi Sunak in the very highest of regards – the son of a GP and former Goldman Sachs banker in London secured the party’s nomination to succeed William Hague, the current Leader of the Commons and ex-Foreign Secretary, in the first round of voting against a quality field of candidates.
A young Mr Hague made a similar first impression on Richmond Conservative Association in the late 1980s when he succeeded former Home Secretary and EU commissioner Leon Brittan in a by-election, and there will be many who hope that Mr Sunak goes on to occupy one of the great offices of state.
Mr Sunak does have the insurance that this is one of the safest Tory seats in the country, but he still has to prove himself to an electorate which will not be afraid to speak its mind. He is unlikely to have encountered the nuances of the rural economy, and the politics of the horse racing industry that is integral to Middleham and Leyburn, at Oxford University and then Stanford University in the USA.
Yet, while the Conservative Party still prides itself on being a meritocracy, there will be some who think that this selection will do little to harness the enthusiasm of ambitious local activists already working hard – and even less to advance the cause of female politicians.
With Anne McIntosh controversially de-selected in Thirsk, Malton and Filey, and replaced by estate agent Kevin Hollinrake, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the Tories will not have a single female MP in Yorkshire after the next election. That cannot be to the party’s advantage.
Minister’s empty threat to trolls
JUSTICE SECRETARY Chris Grayling’s threat to jail internet trolls for two years is certainly a salutary warning to those troubled individuals tormenting others on social media.
It also smacks of gesture politics. Mr Grayling does not acknowledge that the prisons are already full – or the freedom of speech ramifications. How does the Minister define ‘abuse’ and how does he intend to bring to justice those people from overseas who are posting insulting comments? A more pragmatic approach might be a programme of engagement which encourages internet users to be more responsible, but that is unlikely to garner more favourable pre-election headlines.