Tom Richmond: Let London keep Parliament – and give North fairer funding in return

Should Parliament be relocated to the North?

Should Parliament be relocated to the North?

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THE unelected London-bashing Lib Dem peers were in full voice in the House of Lords this week as they wasted valuable time calling for Parliament to be relocated to the North.

I’m all for more public institutions in the neglected provinces, but I smiled in agreement when the sage-like Bishop of Chester ventured: “Are we quite sure whether the people of the North would want Parliament in the North?”

No they don’t.

Even though repairs to Parliament are estimated to cost £4bn, the building is part of Britain’s national heritage and a magnet for tourists from the around the world who then spend their money in this country.

It’s the same with Buckingham Palace which requires a £370m makeover – the historical importance of the Queen’s official residence means that no money should be spared on upgrading its fixtures and fittings.

Like Parliament’s refit, this is an investment in Britain’s past, present and future. My only regret is that the renovations have been left for so long that some have used the cost as an excuse for Ma’am to slum it on the streets or in a stable with her gee-gees.

Leaving aside the separate debate about the merits, or otherwise, of an unelected Upper House, peers should have been taking heed of their colleague Jim O’Neill who was effectively George Osborne’s right hand man at the Treasury before resigning in September.

When the former chairman of Goldman Sachs, and one of the architects of the Northern Powerhouse and National Infrastructure Committee, bemoans the Autumn Statement for a lack of emphasis on the need for improved east-west road and rail links in this region, peers – and the rest of the country’s political elite – need to wash out their lugholes, sit up, take notice and act.

Not only do leaders here need to accept Lord O’Neill’s veiled criticism about devolution – it is, frankly, embarrassing that this is still the largest and most significant region in the country without any kind of agreement – but national politicians need to ensure that the North gets a fairer deal when it comes to new infrastructure. If this former minister thinks that links between Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool are not good enough, someone needs to act.

Rather than pointless pontification about relocating the Houses of Parliament, how about committing the Government to parity of funding, determined by factors like GDP or level of economic opportunity so all future infrastructure investment is allocated evenly between the North and the South by the end of the decade?

This would be fair to london – and fair to the North.

AFTER last week’s column questioned the ability of the newly-formed Transport for the North to deliver major infrastructure improvements, chief executive David Brown set out a strategy of sorts this week which was effectively a rehash of previously announced priorities.

His use of language, however, did not inspire confidence. A Press release attributed these words to Mr Brown: “Transport for the North is currently developing a multi-modal Strategic Transport Plan, which will identify the many ways in which the economy could be transformed by connecting the North.”

This, I’m afraid, is code for delay and dither.

Yet he was slightly more forthcoming on plans for a road tunnel under the Pennines which formed the centrepiece of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement two years ago.

Confirming no “insurmountable geological barriers exist” for a road from Sheffield to Manchester, and that it would bring “economic benefits”, the verbose Mr Brown added: “This would be a very expensive and long-term project. Work is now continuing to fully understand potential user benefits and disadvantages so that an informed decision can be made.”

For avoidance of doubt, this is political-speak for doing nowt.

Mark my words, he sounds like a Downing Street stooge – hence the call at the outset of this column for infrastructure investment to be audited to ensure the more equitable distribution of funds.

AFTER being succeeded by Paul Nuttall, the outgoing Ukip leader Nigel Farage was asked if he would accept a peerage and sit in the House of Lords. His answer sounded definitive: “No.”

I’ll remind him of this when he becomes Lord Farage of Ukip because he won’t be able to resist the opportunity of running rings around Europhiles in the Lords.

NOT content with importing a young tyro from the Welsh valleys to Leeds to read the weather on Look North when Paul Hudson is absent, why did BBC Breakfast feel the need to pay to set up an outside broadcast in a frost-covered park on Tuesday for its forecaster Matt Taylor to confirm that it was a tad chilly?

Let’s hope the luxurious scarves / fashion props which adorn weather readers like Mr Taylor, and others, have not been bought on expenses.

GOOD luck to Middleham jump jockey Henry Brooke who tackles Aintree’s Grand National fences today just eight weeks after being airlifted to hospital in a coma with a collapsed lung and nine fractured ribs.

As he said in his letter of thanks to Great North Air Ambulance: “Beyond me how this is a charity!” I agree – it amazes me that air ambulances, just like lifeboat crews and even hospices, are so dependent on the public’s benevolence when they provide such essential services.

COURAGE, character and camaraderie were the three words that came mind while watching the BBC’s brilliant documentary The Last Miners which featured the final shifts at Kellingley Colliery before Britain’s last deep coal mine was closed for good a year ago. It made strong men cry.

And then a fourth word: cowardice. Why, when Britain is so dependent on energy imports and can’t afford to heat the homes of vulnerable pensioners this winter, have politicians presided over the demise of this once great industry when there is still an abundance of coal under Yorkshire? If there was a will, a way could be found.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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