THE ECONOMIC case for sustained improvement in Yorkshire’s creaking transport infrastructure continues to be well argued – today’s persuasive report by the widely-respected IPPR North policy think-tank, and leading accountants from KPMG, has been preceded this week by powerful research undertaken by top academics from Sheffield and Leeds universities.
It is best summed up by Richard Threlfall, the UK head of infrastructure at the accounting firm, who argues that the North “should be in the premier league of world economies but is currently condemned to mediocrity because of lack of investment”. He cites how 40 per cent more people could be commuting between Leeds and Manchester each day if there were sufficient trains.
The TransPennine Express example is symbolic as IT firm FDM looks to relocate to Leeds and create up to 500 jobs locally. This, after all, is the strategically critical railway route that the Government repeatedly promised to upgrade before the election – David Cameron even claimed during one interview that electrification work was already underway – before the project was “paused” because of concerns about Network Rail’s management capabilities. Given the extent to which infrastructure funding is already skewed so heavily in London’s favour, it will be, frankly, scandalous – and a betrayal of the Northern Powerhouse’s supposed objectives – if this scheme is not given the green light in the Government’s forthcoming spending review once Sir Peter Hendy has completed his overhaul of Network Rail.
As today’s critique makes clear, the North’s revival is not just dependent on transport investment from Whitehall. There also needs to be strong political leadership in the region –and business productivity will only improve if there is an environment in which innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish. On both points, there is still much to prove – locally, regionally and nationally – if Yorkshire’s full potential is to be realised so the North can enjoy a period of growth not seen since the Victorian era of grand municipal development. It’s some prize on offer.
Tide of humanity
Europe’s migrants crisis deepens
IT’S cheap politics on the part for Yvette Cooper, the West Yorkshire MP, to suggest an artificial target for the number of migrants who could, and should, be accommodated in Britain as a by-product of Europe’s refugee crisis – she does not have to implement them and the lack of unanimity amongst her rivals for the Labour leadership suggests that there is not a straightforward solution.
As such, David Cameron is in an invidious position. If he softens his stance on immigration policy, he will play into the hands of Eurosceptics ahead of the totemic referendum on the UK’s future membership of the European Union and it will be harder for the pro-business case to prevail.
Yet it cannot be right for countries like Greece and Italy to be compelled to handle an unprecedented number of asylum applications because they’re the first port of call of those stricken people who do survive a perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Their already fragile economies simply can’t cope, hence those who are besieging Budapest’s main railway station in the hope of reaching Germany, or those individuals so desperate to reach Britain that they’re prepared to cling onto lorries or trains passing through the Channel Tunnel. Rather than scoring points off each other, Mr Cameron and Mrs Merkel need to work with their counterparts to put in place a strategy so Europe is not overwhelmed by this tide of humanity while also safeguarding those who are genuinely attempting to flee tyranny. It’s a very fine balance that will need to be struck.
Fairness for all
Time to back the Living Wage
IF not now, when? This is the question that opponents of the proposed Living Wage need to answer following research by the Resolution Foundation showing that nearly one in three of all workers in Yorkshire will enjoy a pay rise by the end of the decade.
It surely makes sense to introduce this measure during a period of economic growth. Not only will this help businesses to afford the increased salaries, but it offers an even greater incentive for the out-of-work to seek employment. Many of the self-same critics argued in 1997 that the Minimum Wage would ruin the economy. They were wrong then and they’re wrong now – aspiration needs to be encouraged in all sectors of society and people paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work.