Tom Richmond: May needs to get transport for the North back on track

Rail services on the Southern franchise came to a standstill because of strike action.
Rail services on the Southern franchise came to a standstill because of strike action.
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IF Theresa May wants to know why the North still feels like the poor relation over transport, she should read the damning National Audit Office report into the electrification of the main railway line through her Home Counties constituency of Maidenhead.

Unlike schemes in this region, the upgrading of the line from Manchester to Cardiff and the rest of the South West was made a national priority. Yet what happens? The cost shoots up from £3.4bn in 2013 to £5.5bn, completion is delayed by three years and orders for new trains have to be hastily rearranged so new rolling stock can operate under both diesel and electric power.

Not only does it mean that Yorkshire travellers will have to wait even longer for the carriage cast-offs from the Great Western route – more like ‘Late Western’ – but the second stage of the Midland Mainline electrification, from the Midlands to Sheffield, won’t be completed until the mid-2020s if at all.

And this despite Paul Maynard, the underwhelming Rail Minister, telling the House of Commons on Monday about how improvements on the route from London to Corby are already well advanced before glibly brushing asides the comments of critical Tory and Labour MPs from both Yorkshire, and the East Midlands, with comments like: “This is an incremental process.”

Pull the other one. London and the South East once again comes first. Just like the Environment Agency prioritising a flood defence scheme upstream of Mrs May’s Maidenhead constituency earlier this summer at the expense of new projects in Yorkshire, this is further evidence that the North-South divide is not slowing down under this supposed One Nation government. Quite the opposite. And, to add further insult, Sir Patrick McLoughlin – the Transport Secretary who presided over the ‘Late Western’ fiasco before being made Tory chairman by Mrs May – was at Buckingham Palace, down on one knee in front of the Queen, collecting his knighthood on the very day that the National Audit Office exposed the spiralling costs.

This knighthood – a parting gift by David Cameron to his Tory chums – is another reward for failure after Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, offered this withering assessment of his former ministry’s limited capabilities: “This is a case study in how not to manage a major programme.”

In short, Mrs May must review the Department for Transport’s management urgently – it’s hardly reassuring with regard to HS2 – before coming up with an infrastructure strategy that acknowledges the existence of the North. Like the late-running trains, time is not on her side.

WOULD Britain have secured more concessions from the EU if Boris Johnson, and not David Cameron, had conducted the renegotiations?

Mr Johnson, the then Mayor of London, was certainly up for the job when he volunteered his services in 2015, according to Tim Shipman’s All Out War book.

“My offer to Dave was, put me in charge of everything,” said the current Foreign Secretary. “I said it to George (Osborne, I said it to Dave). There was no particular enthusiasm whatever for that. I would’ve loved to have done it.”

He couldn’t have done a worse job, even though he would not have given two hoots about the interests of the North.

Yet what other advice did Messrs Cameron and Osborne spurn? It’s all the more reason for an inquiry into their communications, text messages and referendum modus operandi, not least why the consequences of a Remain or Leave vote were not spelled out in full prior to the June 23 vote. It would have saved a lot of aggravation.

Even more perturbing is the extent to which Mr Cameron tried to buy off his Brexit opponents by dangling the prospect of promotion.

According to All Out War, the Tory leader hoped Mr Johnson’s loyalty could be bought. “He was offered any job in the Cabinet except Chancellor,” an ally of the Foreign Secretary said.

The Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen declined to become Immigration Minister because Mr Cameron had been less than complimentary about the working class town of Coalville in his East Midlands constituency, describing at as ‘a dump’. Charming.

At least Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, who did vote for Brexit, refused point blank to meet Mr Cameron – an obstinate stance that shook the Prime Minister’s confidence by all accounts. I just hope Theresa May sees sense and offers no grubby deals when her Ministers and MPs revolt.

JUDICIAL independence threatened by Brexit because she does not realise her role is that of “constitutional protector”, prison riots, inmates on the run, it’s been another stellar performance by Justice Secretary Liz Truss whose career should have been sunk without trace following last winter’s floods debacle.

You – and the Government – were warned about this serial incompetent. I’m just amazed Ms Truss was not summonsed to the Commons to explain herself. And then I realised. MPs were on a three-day half-term break from Wednesday.

It’s not as if there was a shortage of material to debate. The Justice Secretary’s future, Brexit and President-elect Donald Trump for starters...

ISN’T it time for (Lord) Alan Sugar and television’s The Apprentice to be fired from the BBC schedules? Far from being representative of Britain’s entrepreneurial and creative spirit as contestants compete for a ‘dream job’ in the boardroom, the desperate need to retain viewing figures clearly means that conflict and back-stabbing is being promoted at the expense of business acumen.

Look where the American version of the reality TV show has ended up...with the bombastic, bullying billionaire Donald J Trump elected as the 45th President of the United States. At least Lord Sugar can’t become PM because he’s an unelected peer, one small mercy.

A SHAME that the Department for Education and Skills won’t release the full text of Education Secretary Justine Greening’s speech on Tuesday vowing to “take ownership” of the school standards debate and start a “race to the top”.

A spokeswoman said it wasn’t newsworthy. I disagree. Skills could not be more important, unless – of course – the DfES was exaggerating the Rotherham-born Minister’s remarks.

THOUGH many football clubs have impeccably observed the traditional one minute’s silence for the Armistice, some are choosing to encourage spectators to applaud loudly. I hope this growing trend desists – it is disrespectful to all those who gave their lives so today’s generation can attend sporting events.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk