Special report: A year on, what happened to those election promises for Yorkshire?

The new south entrance of Leeds Station. Picture by James Hardisty

The new south entrance of Leeds Station. Picture by James Hardisty

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AS a briefing with local media in Leeds came to an end during last year’s election campaign, Mr Cameron headed off to the Conservative election bus, shouting over his shoulder “We’ll be back again soon”.

Indeed he was. David Cameron and George Osborne criss-crossed the country last April and May in the hunt for votes but Yorkshire received special attention.

David Cameron on the election trail at Asda House, Leeds in May 2015

David Cameron on the election trail at Asda House, Leeds in May 2015

With the Conservatives holding a series of seats in the region by the narrowest of margins, the Tories’ two biggest guns repeatedly headed to Yorkshire to make promises about the role it would play in their “northern powerhouse” plan to grow the economy of the North of England.

Whatever happened to Northern Powerhouse? Tories have let down Yorkshire say Labour

In case voters had missed the Long Term Economic Plan for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire launched in Leeds earlier in 2015, the Conservatives hammered home the message with the Conservative Plan for Working People in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire during the election campaign.

There were other pledges made along the way too, from building the new HS2 high speed rail line from the North to a string of new enterprise zones to help the local economy.

And it worked. On election night voters in marginal constituencies such as Pudsey, Colne Valley and Calder Valley chose to stick with their Conservative MPs paving Mr Cameron’s way back to Downing Street.

A year into its five-year term, the Prime Minister is under pressure to show he is delivering on that show of faith.

A Government spokesperson said: “The Northern Powerhouse is a long term strategy which includes the biggest transfer of powers from Whitehall to local leaders in a generation, alongside major investment in critical areas like infrastructure, skills and education.”

“The work to ensure that the north becomes a powerhouse for our economy again is not even two years old, but Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire is already seeing early progress. Since the Chancellor set out his vision in 2014, the number of people in work in this region is up by more than 30,000 and there is faster business growth here than in any other region in the whole country.

“From backing high speed rail between Leeds and Manchester, to supporting Hull with £13 million for its year as City of Culture, to investing heavily in flood defences, we’ve put Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire at the heart of our work to address challenges that have existed in the north for decades and we are only getting started.”

The failure to win back key marginal seats in Yorkshire was hugely damaging to Labour last year and a year on from the election, Labour argues the Conservatives are failing to live up to the promises they made.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves said: “The Tories made a huge number of promises to the people of Yorkshire and the Humber at the general election.

“But, more than a year later, there is no sign of the enterprise zones they promised or any progress on the badly needed improvements to the rail network.

“The Government has cancelled vital investment which means that Leeds still lacks proper flood defences and the transport network it needs to keep the city moving.

“The region has great businesses and great talent. But we have the potential to do so much more to boost jobs, training, our local economy and transport connections.”

ECONOMY

The Conservatives promised the North would grow as fast as rest of country from 2015 to 2020, to grow the Yorkshire economy by £13bn by 2030, to create 100,000 jobs, to create new enterprise zones in Dewsbury, Colne Valley, Keighley, Halifax, Scarborough and Harrogate and to raise incomes for 2.2m people.

The Government says: Data not yet available to judge progress on the £13bn target. Employment in the region up by 25,000 since last year. Increases in the personal allowance will benefit 2.4m people to the tune of £184 by 2017-18; 111,000 people will pay no income tax and 41,000 will no longer pay higher rate. New enterprise zones in West Yorkshire and York will come into force in 2017. Yorkshire’s local enterprise partnerships have not pursued all the sites mentioned.

Labour says: The net change in employment has been an increase of 2,000 meaning it would take 60 years to reach the Government’s target. Since 2010, London has seen economic growth of 24 per cent compared to 10.7 per cent in Yorkshire. Enterprise zones not delivered in areas mentioned. Earnings data for the last year not yet published.

Ed Cox, director of the IPPR North thinktank, says: “There can be little doubt that the Yorkshire economy is moving in the right direction and that the concept of a Northern Powerhouse has helped generate business confidence. But such success is fragile.

“ Government has yet to put its money where its mouth is on major transport investment, politics is preventing any part of Yorkshire securing a devolution deal, and the call from business for more engagement and co-ordination is getting louder.

“We believe it is time for a Great North Plan to set out a more coherent approach to economic planning and strategy development for the Northern Powerhouse.”

EDUCATION

The Conservatives promised to create 360,000 apprenticeships, 100,000 new good primary school places and offer working families 30 hours of free childcare a week. They said 95,000 more pupils would be attending outstanding schools.

The Government says: More than 323,000 apprenticeships have been started in the region since 2010. Last year more than 29,300 workplaces have had apprentices. Yorkshire has been allocated £401.6m to create new schools places between 2015 and 2019. Since May last year, the number of children attending outstanding schools has increased by 8,000, with 34,000 more attending good or outstanding schools. The 30 hours of childcare will be trialled in York from September and rolled out nationally next year.

Labour says: The Government has promised 3m apprentices and has so far created 268,400 and is on track to miss its own targets. A survey by the Pre-School Learning Alliance found 49 per cent of providers they would close as a result of the 30 hours policy, half felt they didn’t have the capacity and only 30 per cent were expecting to deliver the offer.

TRANSPORT

The Conservatives promised £6.4bn investment including rail electrification, providing new trains, freezing rail fares, building HS2 including the stretch between Leeds and Sheffield as a priority and developing trans-Pennine high speed rail, known as HS3. Upgrades to a series of roads including the M1, M62 and A1,

The Government says: Transport for the North created with £50m to draw up plans for the region. Roads across North to see £2.9bn of spending between 2015 and 2021. Pushing ahead with trans-Pennine rail electrification, new Northern and Transpennine franchises to deliver more modern trains with extra capacity and new services, £60m pledged to develop HS3. Considering plans for a trans-Pennine road tunnel.

Labour says: Trans-Pennine and Midland Mainline electrification put on hold last year before progressing on longer timetable. Public Accounts committee has questioned the costs and timetable for electrification. The Government has yet to commit to the electrification of the Hull-Selby line. Reports suggest HS2 line could miss Sheffield to save construction costs.

James MacColl, head of campaigns at Campaign for Better Transport, says: “Some progress is finally being made on transport spending in the north of England. Transport for the North is now taking control of strategy and directing investment in rail infrastructure in the region and the two new rail franchises will provide big upgrades to local and regional rail services; but the jury’s out on how much HS2 will benefit the region given we have yet to see how it will be connected to the existing network.

“We are also worried that, by focusing on the rail and motorways, everyday transport - like walking and buses - is being neglected. The Buses Bill, which is has just been introduced to Parliament, is an opportunity to address the decline of local buses, which should remain an integral part of the transport mix in Yorkshire.”

DEVOLUTION

The Conservatives promised to “devolve greater powers to the great cities and counties of Yorkshire”.

The Government says: Devolution deal agreed with Sheffield City Region which will include £30m a year for the next 30 years. Committed to working with council and business leaders to find ways forward for further devolution deals across Yorkshire.

Labour says: Council leaders in West Yorkshire have expressed disappointment at previous devolution agreements. Yorkshire councils have suffered cuts in their funding worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Alexandra Jones, Chief Executive at the think tank Centre for Cities, says: “Sheffield’s devolution deal marked a great step forward for the city region, and local leaders in Leeds city region should continue to negotiate with Government to agree a similar deal, to take on more powers over infrastructure, skills and transport – all of which would make a big difference to the lives of people across the area.

“Of course, agreeing a deal that works for local and national leaders is not easy, but if Leeds city region don’t secure a deal there is a risk the area will fall behind other places which have an agreement in place and will look to take on more powers in future. It will also mean that local residents will miss out on the benefits and opportunities that devolution would offer.

“Centre for Cities’ research also suggests that any Yorkshire devolution deal should be delivered at city-region level – rather than covering the whole county – as this is the scale that the local economy functions at, and at which decisions over skills, local transport and planning can be made most effectively.”

RURAL

The Conservatives promised “near universal superfast broadband” by 2020 and to secure the future of 3,000 rural post offices nationally. They pledged to strengthen the Community Right to Bid to help areas secure local facilities at risk and a pub loan fund. A 25 year plan for British food, pressure for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and a single Farm Inspection Taskforce was promised.

The Government says: Investing £54m to improve access to superfast broadband in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. A review has been held of the Community Right to Bid and a £3.62m Community Pub Business Support Programme was launched in March. The 25-year food plan is being finalised. The Great British Food Unit was launched this year to champion British produce home and abbroad.

Labour says: A recent Government consultation suggested thousands of homes would miss out on superfast broadband and the Institute of Directors have argued there is a “poverty of ambition” in this area. The Communication Workers Union has warned 50 of the last 314 Crown post offices could close in the next two years.

CULTURE AND SPORT

The Conservatives promised to support Yorkshire’s “unique cultural, creative and sporting strengths” with £1.5m for Welcome to Yorkshire, £1.5m to bring the Turner Prize to Hull in 2017, support for any bid to bring the Cycling World Championships to Yorkshire and £495,000 for a new cycle gateway to the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The Government says: Hull City of Culture 2017 backed with £13m plus the Turner Prize commitment, Arts Council England and Visit Britain have together given Welcome to Yorkshire £1.5m while £500,000 has also been invested in the Tour de Yorkshire.

Labour says: The Sustrans charity has warned the Government will fail to meet its target to double the number of people cycling in the UK. The Government have dedicated £316m to cycling outside London over five years, less than £362m being spent on a 17 mile stretch of road in Northamptonshire.

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