Tom Richmond: Government must give all the regions a fair chance

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HERE is a clear illustration why Yorkshire needs its very own Minister – and why David Cameron must start putting the framework in place to enable the region to fulfil its potential.

When Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh Secretary, took questions in the House of Commons last week, she was able to give a number of assurances about the Government’s approach to enterprise zones.

She also made the point that some zones – in Merseyside for example – might impinge upon the Welsh economy, and she’d consider this very carefully. Her remarks came days ahead of Cameron’s Cabinet decamping to Wales on Tuesday.

Contrast this with Rachel Reeves, the West Leeds MP who secured an adjournment debate – in the Westminster Hall annex – about the need to turn the Kirkstall Forge site into an enterprise zone.

She made a lengthy submission which was responded to, on behalf of the Government, by Norman Baker, the Lib Dem transport minister.

I have nothing against the Minister. His brief is the railways and the potential of a new station, to ease road congestion, is one of the key proposals that underpin the Kirkstall Forge plan.

Yet I’m sure there would have been far more urgency in the response if there was a Minister for Yorkshire who truly understood this scheme’s importance and could ensure that it would not slip even further down the Government’s agenda in the months ahead.

Taken as a whole, Yorkshire is comparable in size to Wales. The same too with Scotland. And also Northern Ireland.

Politically, however, the region has little teeth – despite prominent members of the three main parties having constituencies here. Not only do each of the Celtic nations have their own parliament or assembly, but they each have a Cabinet-level minister.

And, furthermore, they resisted moves – which came to light during Gordon Brown’s membership – to downgrade this status so one Cabinet member was responsible for all three nations.

Given the uncertain situation in Northern Ireland, I can understand why this remains a full-time job, but it does appear perverse that Scotland and Wales continue to enjoy so much preferment over Yorkshire. With the next election still likely to be determined by the economic recovery, rather than the fallout from phone hacking, Cameron must act now to ensure every region – Yorkshire included – can share the proceeds of any growth that is accrued by the Government in the years ahead.

For, unless he has such a strategy, he is likely to derailed, in the next year, by the aforementioned Welsh Secretary resigning from the Cabinet because she objects to the high speed rail line to the North passing through her Buckinghamshire constituency.

This is not the way to run a policy for the regions and the likes of Cheryl Gillan should recognise that Ministers of the Crown have a duty to the whole country.

AS the phone scandal escalates, there will be many Labour politicians – ex Home Secretary David Blunkett included – who will regret their decision to write columns for News International publications. Likewise, Gordon Brown must surely regret his continuing “friendship” with shamed former NI boss Rebekah Woods, given the extent to which this media group allegedly abused his privacy and obtained private medical records of his young son who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

No one could fail to sympathise with Brown when he made his dramatic intervention this week. Whatever his political or economic record, his family is entitled to privacy. News International’s subsequent cover-up is indefensible.

The fury he showed on the floor of the House of Commons contrasted with David Cameron’s Commons no-shows last Friday, and on Monday, when he preferred to take questions on hacking at a Press conference rather than from MPs.

GERRY Sutcliffe, the Bradford MP and Labour’s spokesman on immigration, makes a fair point. How can the Home Office be trusted on the main issues when its boss, Theresa May, cannot even reply on time to her opposite number Yvette Cooper, the Pontefract MP? May’s approach is in sharp contrast to Peter Mandelson. Like him or loathe him, the reason he was so well abreast of events was that he responded to emails, and other correspondence, within the hour.

I SEE Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett received short shrift when he said that the Government had spent more than £5m “tarting up” Whitehall offices, including £680,000 on No. 10 Downing Street.

Questioning the expense when so many public sector workers are being laid off, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude replied: “If we had not gone in for full transparency in what the Government are spending, the honourable gentleman would not know anything about this.”

SPEAKER John Bercow’s wife Sally does not appreciate the importance of tourism to Britain after complaining: “God, I hate tourists, shuffling along, blocking pavements, stopping to take pics every two seconds.”

Without visitors, Yorkshire’s economy, for one, would be even more fragile. Perhaps Mr and Mrs Bercow should spend Parliament’s long summer recess on a fact-finding trips to these parts.

On second thoughts, could we stand the pomposity?

Probably not.

THE best programme on television this week was the BBC’s moving tribute to Seve Ballesteros. But why did it have to be presented by ex-footballer Gary Lineker whose shallow questioning, and endless appearances in front of the camera, detracted from the legacy of a golfing genius?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk