YP Comment: Time to fast-track the North, Mr Osborne

Leeds Station is integral to the future of all rail services in the region.Leeds Station is integral to the future of all rail services in the region.
Leeds Station is integral to the future of all rail services in the region.
AS GEORGE Osborne seeks to regain the initiative that he has lost on the Northern Powerhouse, it is welcome that he is using tomorrow's Budget to commit £300m to implementing the National Infrastructure Commission's proposed transport blueprint for this region without delay or obfuscation.

As expected, this major report concludes that the upgrading of rail links between Leeds and Manchester, and the widening of the M62 across the Pennines, can both be the catalyst for significant – and lasting – economic growth across the North.

Mr Osborne had to act swiftly. This latest report carries greater clout because the Commission, headed by former Labour minister Andrew Adonis, was actually set up by the Chancellor to ensure strategic decisions on infrastructure investment were not determined on grounds of political expediency. Having sought such expert guidance, Mr Osborne would have done little to endear himself to the county, and the country, if he then ignored the specific timetable proposed for upgrading trans-Pennine rail links after these improvements were temporarily “paused” last summer.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Before the last election, Mr Osborne committed the Government to beginning the construction of an upgraded railway, including new track so fast trains can overtake more local services stopping at several stations, by the end of this Parliament. No delays will be tolerated following a number of short-sighted decisions in recent weeks which have prompted many to question to Mr Osborne’s credibility and his commitment to the Northern Powerhouse.

However, with the Commission’s emphasis on a major transformation of Manchester Piccadilly station and better road links to Manchester Airport, two related points need to be made. First, Yorkshire’s councils need to speak, and act, with one voice if this region is to enjoy parity with the North West where local authorities have agreed a new governance model. Second, cities like Sheffield must not be overlooked – South Yorkshire has as much to gain from improved road and links links across the Pennines as West Yorkshire does.

Healthy finances: NHS in crisis management mode

AS A hard-hitting Parliamentary report reveals the extent to which the ability of NHS trusts to deliver healthcare is being compromised by the debts of the past, perhaps politicians do, in fact, need to consider the future of such organisations from a business perspective so a long-term remedy can be found. If this happened, one of two scenarios would unfold – either accountants would be able to find ways to write off these debts or the NHS would receive a massive injection of Government cash, as happened with the banks 
during the 2008 crash.

It is more likely that Ministers will attempt to muddle through and remind health chiefs that the NHS budget continues to enjoy special status compared to other services, with funding made available to finance the changes proposed by Sir Simon Stevens. Yet, with the budget shortfall now estimated to be £22bn, muddling through is simply a prescription for longer waiting times, and more of the same, as hospitals – and community care providers – struggle to cope with the record demand for health services, a by-product of an ageing society.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

That is why the Government needs to begin a conversation on how best to fund future healthcare – daily crisis management is not good enough for an organisation that prides itself on being the envy of the world.

Hand of friendship: The importance of volunteering

IF 60 is the new 40, as the saying goes, then 70 must be the new 50 as retirees across Yorkshire enjoy a new lease of life by learning a range of new skills or, in many case, striving to give something back to their local community.

This is exemplified by the GrandFest being organised by the Royal Voluntary Service which will show how the over-70s can broaden their horizons. Yet, while sponsored charity parachute jumps might appeal to the more intrepid, just a few hours helping out a local charity can make a lasting difference.

For, while today’s senior citizens have never been more active, social isolation is a growing concern – yesterday, in a coincidence of timing, a celebration was held marking the first anniversary of the Friendship Lunch set up by The Yorkshire Post as part of its loneliness campaign. It demonstrated the importance of being there to listen to those who do not have relatives or friends with whom they can share the joys of retirement.