Can Osborne win the North?

IT IS thanks to George Osborne’s astute handling of the economy that the Tories do still have a chance of winning the 2015 election following the first phase of the Chancellor’s austerity programme.

IT IS thanks to George Osborne’s astute handling of the economy that the Tories do still have a chance of winning the 2015 election following the first phase of the Chancellor’s austerity programme.

Even though modern political history is firmly against David Cameron’s Conservatives – only in 1959 and 1983 has a governing party increased its share of the vote after being in office for at least two years – the Tories still have a commanding lead over Labour when it comes to the totemic issue of economic trust and competence.

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However, Mr Osborne will have to strike a careful balance in the frenetic period leading up to the final Budget before polling day. Though any additional tax cuts will be welcomed by the Tory faithful who are fearful of Ukip’s electoral threat, they could easily be misconstrued because Britain is still borrowing beyond its means.

The Chancellor also has to prove that his much-vaunted “northern powerhouse” is for real and not a pre-election ploy intended to woo voters in those bellwether marginal seats along the M62 corridor that will determine whether Mr Cameron, or Ed Miliband, governs Britain.

Though Mr Osborne has created the impression that vast sums of additional investment are being spent on Yorkshire’s transport and infrastructure, many of the schemes are still aspirational and have still to be signed off by the Treasury. The same applies to the road projects set out in the Autumn Statement; some even pre-date this coalition and the serial recycling of announcements ultimately proved to be Gordon Brown’s undoing.

As such, the onus should be on the Chancellor to set out, in the clearest terms, the timetable for his “northern powerhouse” – and the funding arrangements. In short, he must put his money where his mouth is. For, if Mr Osborne can do so without compromising the public finances, he and his party will have earned, in all probability, the chance to implement this vision in a second term and put Yorkshire at the vanguard 
of Britain’s recovery.

ATM free access

Jobs are still the top priority

THE Government deserves credit for its intention to abolish cash machine charges in deprived and rural areas by offering discounted business rates to those shops, pubs and garages.

Why should customers have to pay £5 for the right to access their hard-earned money because they just happen to live in an area where there is a dearth of banks and post offices?

The disappointment is that it has taken years of campaigning by enlightened MPs, like Labour’s Frank Field, to realise that the abolition of such charges is critical to improving the financial fortunes of those hard-up individuals who simply cannot afford the £5 levy – or the cost of travelling to a location where they can make cash withdrawals or deposits from an ATM for free.

Given the extent to which the UK taxpayer had to bail out the nationalised banks, pressure should have been placed on this sector to waive cash machine charges as part of its pay-back to the country. It should not have been left to Ministers to devise a solution, even more when the public finances are under such strain and councils across the country are bracing themselves for the next round of spending cuts.

Yet, having identified a solution, Ministers need to go further. They now need to look at what more can be done to generate more jobs in socially deprived areas.

That is the key to lifting a generation of families out of poverty, and into work, so they can become net contributors to the economy.

The number is up

Time to end London lottery bias

WHEN John Major instigated the National Lottery 20 years ago, his objective was to help to fund a renaissance in the nation’s sport, arts and heritage – and the former prime minister’s gamble has been vindicated.

Despite the larceny of the New Labour years, when funds were diverted to pet projects backed by Tony Blair, the lottery has been instrumental to the success of Britain’s Olympians, the construction of buildings like The Hepworth and the preservation of historically-important landmarks.

Yet one flaw remains – and that is the funding bias towards London. This is even more pronounced by the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected two innovative bids from Sheffield. Though this is another reminder, if one was needed, about the need for applicants to leave no stone unturned with their submissions, this process should not be a lottery. It should be a level playing field for the whole country and it is time that this anomaly was rectified.