NOW that Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has visited Tadcaster, and witnessed the 18th century road bridge which collapsed into the flood-swollen River Wharfe to the disbelief of bystanders who thought it was impregnable, she might now appreciate why the Government’s response to this catastrophe has been derided by so many – The Yorkshire Post included – as “too little and too late”.
Given the cost of building a temporary crossing for this town split in half, and the possibility that the entire bridge might have to be pulled down on safety grounds before being rebuilt, the £100m rescue fund for the whole of the North will not go very far at this rate. This collapse might be the symbol of these floods, but it was far from being an isolated incident – Elland Bridge is also in a perilous position.
And Ms Truss also needs to be aware that the extra £280m being made available for Yorkshire’s flood defences is just a drop in the proverbial ocean – her latest utterances make no reference to the decision in 2011 to scrap a £180m scheme in Leeds which might have spared the West Yorkshire city from the worst of this week’s flooding damage. Such cost-cutting has proven to be a false economy.
If Tadcaster’s partially collapsed bridge, a structure built during the Industrial Revolution, won’t convince Ms Truss do act, nothing will. After all, she was among the first Ministers to sign up to George Osborne’s latest budget demands and then cheered loudly when the Chancellor defended his record in the Commons. However this is not a prosaic political game – livelihoods depend on the actions of Ministers – and Ms Truss needs to provide a robust response which reflects the scale of this crisis. Until she does, her pronouncements deserve to be greeted with the deepest of scepticism while many will have very good reason to regard the Environment Secretary as being totally out of her depth.
The call of duty: Cronyism row tarnishes honours systems
THE KNIGHTHOOD controversially awarded by the Government to Sir Lynton Crosby, the Tory election strategist, threatens to make a mockery of an honours system which was intended to recognise and reward those public-spirited individuals who made a genuine difference to their local communities.
It is even more incongruous when set in the context of a Westminster select committee which concluded three years ago that no one should be honoured for simply ‘doing the day job’ and David Cameron’s complacent response to the floods.
Sir Lynton’s job was simple – it was to win the 2015 election so the Tories could return to power. He was very well remunerated to do so and his focus was so narrow that issues like flood defences did not even enter his calculations. If only they did.
Of courses, Tories are not the only political party guilty of bringing the honours system into disrepute. Labour has been equally culpable in the past and, of course, it was Harold Wilson who introduced stardust in 1965 when all four members of the Beatles received MBEs.
The disappointment is rows about cronyism, and an inherent bias towards privately educated individuals, now overshadow every honours list and the deserved accolades awarded to the famous, whether it be Sir AP McCoy or Dame Barbara Windsor in this instance, and the awards given to those extraordinary community stalwarts from across Yorkshire who are this county’s heartbeat.
The great pity is nothing will change before the Queen’s Birthday Honours next June which will, even now, be dominated by the political great and good rather than the volunteers and others whose willpower spared Yorkshire from an even greater flooding catastrophe. All heroes, they’re the people deserving of recognition because their response has already extended beyond the call of duty.
Post Office stamp of approval
AS THE Post Office is accused of downgrading its branch in Helmsley, the market town of the year because of its thriving high street, it is encouraging that so many communities are prepared to use their own ingenuity in order to protect this invaluable service.
The past year has seen branches relocated to pubs, pet shops, churches and even a fish and chip shop in one case as part of the Post Office’s long-term modernisation plan.
In defence of the Post Office, it does show a certain willingness to listen to local communities. However it will only do so if residents are prepared to fight for their service – and then present a compelling business case. As such, the ‘use it or lose it’ mantra has never been more applicable.