EVEN though the economic slowdown in China is beginning to have international repercussions, it is said to be one factor underpinning the 400 job losses announced by JCB earlier this week, this should not detract from the significance and importance of George Osborne’s trade mission to Beijing and Shanghai.
Like it or not, China is now a global economic force and it is prescient of the Chancellor to see if the Chinese can be persuaded to invest in UK infrastructure projects, whether it be a new generation of nuclear power stations or the infrastructure projects that are central to Mr Osborne’s much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse.
Gone are the days when the Government could write a blank cheque – the electrification of the TransPennine rail route, recently put on hold because of cost concerns, is miniscule in comparison, for example, to the Chancellor’s desire for a high-speed super-railway linking Leeds with Manchester and the North West. If the latter is to happen, it will be with investment from countries like China.
However there are no guarantees. It will still be up to this region’s political leaders to put forward a compelling business case and this is far more likely to happen if Yorkshire speaks with one voice; the petty rivalries that exist between towns and cities in this region will mean nothing to the Chinese for example.
In this regard, it is a welcome that a final push is being made for West, North and East Yorkshire to join forces with a joint devolution bid. This united approach, prompted by David Cameron’s disparaging off-camera remarks about this county’s leadership, is far more likely to appeal to overseas investors than the hotch-potch of competing proposals that had been put forward by bureaucrats who had lost sight of the number one priority: Yorkshire.
THE decision to place one of the country’s biggest NHS trusts in ‘special measures’ is even more embarrassing for the Government because of the political context.
Crisis-hit Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which includes the world-renowned Addenbrooke’s Hospital, served the Mid Cambridgeshire constituency of the recently ennobled Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary who instigated the top-down reorganisation of the National Health Service in 2010.
If the consequence of Mr Lansley’s prescription is his local hospital being placed on the political equivalent of a life support machine because of care failings, what hope is there for those hospital trusts in other parts of the country – including Yorkshire – whose financial pressures are being exacerbated by a shortage of experienced staff?
Though the Government will contend that the financial pressures at each hospital are unique – the Cambridge trust is running at a weekly deficit of £1.2m – it is clear that the status quo can no longer exist. Have NHS trusts become so big that they are now impossible to manage? Do they require more leaders with private sector business know-how? Or will taxpayers have to pay more in future for care which is commensurate with their expectations which are very different to 70 years ago when the Health Service was in its infancy? Difficult questions, they simply cannot be ignored any longer.
Food for thought
AS the Country Land and Business Association is forced to cancel its annual Game Fair on cost grounds, it is even more important that countryside groups find effective ways of championing the rural economy – and its importance to Britain. After all, it is abundantly clear that they cannot depend on the Conservatives, the traditional party of the countryside, to stand up for farmers and all those whose livelihoods depend on the agricultural industry.
Why? The CLA’s decision overshadowed disclosures at the Lib Dem conference that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs could be broken up in the forthcoming Spending Review, and revelations in former business secretary Vince Cable’s new book, After The Storm, about the extent to which Defra was outmanoeuvred by the Treasury.
No Whitehall department, Defra included, should be exempt from management reform, but Ministers do need to remember this: a stronger economy does depend on a viable rural economy that makes Britain less dependent on food imports and the like.