In the slow lane

THE unsatisfactory nature of politics is further illustrated by the extent to which this Government, just like its Labour predecessor, continues to move the goalposts on the funding of local transport improvements.

First, the Leeds Supertram was stalled by Labour changing the funding rules to, ostensibly, suit its own purposes. And now its successor, the Leeds Trolleybus, is being blighted by similar Whitehall tactics.

It is also symptomatic of the unhelpful "blame game" that is now being played out. In short, the Government says it is up to town halls to make efficiency savings in order to finance their priorities while local councillors say this is simply not possible because of the extent to which their Whitehall grant has been cut.

This impasse is likely to become a recurring theme as councils finalise their budgets. It is also not going to break the deadlock on transport funding, with 50 schemes across the country vying for 600m of funding. Of this, the Government's share of the Trolleybus funding accounts for a third of this pot, further diminishing its chances of implementation.

However, Ministers are being naive if they expect councils to pick up the shortfall – this is unrealistic, at a time of unprecedented cuts, until local authorities are given greater powers to raise revenue through the proposed reform of business rates.

Yet, while this leglislation winds its way, slowly, through Parliament, it offers little hope to those motorists whose daily commute is taking even longer because of sub-standard roads, and those railway travellers who are having to contend with intolerable levels of overcrowding on the trains.

Transport infrastructure has been bedevilled by political obfuscation for far too long – the promised 600m may not be available in this Parliament – and a more pro-active policy must start to take shape in 2011.