SO much for David Cameron’s promise to narrow the North-South divide when he visited Shipley in the immediate aftermath of his 2010 election triumph and lamented the fact that “our economy is heavily reliant on just a few industries and a few regions – particularly London and the South East”.
Despite all the rhetoric over the past five years, infrastructure investment is even more biased in favour of London according to University of Sheffield research which reveals that the capital receives more funding, per person, from the public purse than every other English region combined.
Although London’s fortunes are integral to the economic performance of Britain in its entirety, the growing imbalance makes a mockery of Mr Cameron’s “One Nation” agenda – how can it be right that the equivalent of £5,305 per person is spent on transport and other improvements in the capital when this figure is a paltry £851 in Yorkshire and an even more measly £414 in the North East?
This political “great train robbery” suggests that residents in the North are second class citizens whose taxes are being used to subsidise major new transport projects in the capital like Crossrail – and that this sense of injustice is further exacerbated, still further, by the Government’s post-election decision to “pause” the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester and Sheffield to London railway lines which Ministers repeatedly promised before polling day. Politicians clearly do not appreciate that the local rail network is already dangerously overcrowded.
Of course, the Government will argue that this research justifies the Northern Powerhouse agenda – and local political leaders being given the power to put in place a world-class infrastructure which can attract a new era of jobs and investment. However this overlooks two key points. First, Yorkshire’s devolution deal is still to be finalised. Second, any settlement is contingent upon the Treasury releasing sufficient funds. In light of this research, the onus is back on Ministers to prove that the Northern Powerhouse is for real – and that it is not just a facade to mask the latest spending cuts. They already had much to prove before this analysis was published. Their task has just become even harder – and even more urgent.
The disconnected countryside
IF Yorkshire is to make the most of the Northern Powerhouse, it is imperative that the significance and potential of the county’s rural economy is not under-valued, a point that was made by James Wharton, the Local Government Minister, during his visit to the region last week.
He’s right – the focus on the empowerment of city-regions, and the desire of political leaders in metropolitan West Yorkshire to slice the rural North Riding in half in order to secure a more advantageous devolution deal, has left many countryside communities feeling marginalised.
After all, Yorkshire – and the North East for that matter – does not even make the top 10 of a new list, published by the widely-respected Country Land and Business Association, identifying the best locations in Britain to run a rural business. It cites failings within the planning system, and woefully inadequate broadband coverage, as factors contributing to this poor performance. These are not new phenomenon, they’re well-documented, but it is difficult to envisage this state of affairs improving markedly unless Yorkshire’s rural heartlands are at the core of this county’s devolution settlement if and when it is finally signed off.
Time to bin anti-social scourge
EVEN THOUGH greater public awareness about fly-tipping, and the need to report such occurrences, has probably contributed to the latest rise in incidents, it demonstrates the need for far more draconian enforcement action in those all too few incidents when the culprits are caught. This anti-social scourge continues to blight England’s green and pleasant land, and it is difficult to see how the imposition of fixed penalty fines will make a material difference to the conduct of the moronic minority who disregard the law so blatantly.
Until the courts impose penalties that actually have a deterrent effect, fly-tippers – and those individuals too lazy to place their litter in a receptacle – will continue to embarrass society and be a drain on a public purse. After all, just think how many libraries could be saved from closure if councils weren’t having to spend so much money cleaning up this mess.