December 12: Running scared over Heathrow

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PM’s dither does not bode well for HS2

IF THE Government cannot take a decision on the expansion of Heathrow Airport, an issue that was due to be reconciled by the end of 2015 and which has now been deferred on the grounds of political expediency until after London’s mayoral election next May, what hope is there for other contentious projects like HS2?

Not only does this delay smack of weak leadership on the part of David Cameron who does not appear to have the political strength to stand up to Boris Johnson and those Cabinet Ministers, like Rotherham-born Justine Greening, who are opposed to a third runway, but it undermines the PM’s promises to overhaul this country’s creaking infrastructure as part of the UK’s economic renewal.

Is it any wonder that Britain’s transport network, whether it be roads, rail or airport capacity, compares so unfavourably with the rest of the world when a succession of governments have put short-term political interests before the long-term economic needs of this country?

The Davies Commission report could not have been clearer when it was published on July 1. It advocated a third runway, subject to various environmental safeguards, and Mr Cameron promised a final decision by the end of the year.

Yet, as Tory splits deepen, the key protagonists would be advised to remember that this is not just a decision for the capital. It has implications for the whole country, not least Yorkshire where business leaders had been hoping that the prospect of additional internal flights from this region to Heathrow would help to persuade foreign firms to relocate here. Who can blame them if potential investors choose, instead, to relocate to those countries which not only place a premium on the provision of world-class transport links but then have the foresight to build the necessary infrastructure?

Mr Cameron can’t keep running scared on this issue. He will have to make a decision and it will be preferable that he does so sooner rather than later.

In the firing line: Priceless value of public scrutiny

LEAVING aside whether it was right for fire chiefs in South Yorkshire to be given overtime payments during periods of industrial action when their basic duty, as well-remunerated public officials, is to ensure that the county receives adequate cover at all times, it is unacceptable that this issue became shrouded in so much secrecy.

Though some will say that this is a poor reflection of the calibre of local councillors entrusted with scrutinising such services and decision-making, and which leaves much to be desired in so many instances, the mishandling of these payments suggests that those concerned were acutely aware that they would not find favour in the court of public opinion.

If so, why were they not properly scrutinised at the time? After all, this is public money and this issue needs to be seen in the context of all those fire and rescue services, South Yorkshire included, who are having to make difficult decisions on the future of local fire stations and so on.

Given the lack of transparency in this process, it is now paramount that procedures are tightened up so the benevolence of taxpayers can never again be taken for granted.

Yet this episode offers another reminder about the importance of upholding the Freedom of Information Act so the media, and others, can scrutinise the actions of public bodies. If this safeguard is watered down, as campaigners fear, it will make it harder for journalists and public interest campaigners to investigate such matters on behalf of the most important people of all – the taxpayer.

Churchill’s spirit: Enduring duty to RAF heroes

IT is touching that the spirit of Winston Churchill’s tribute to the Royal Air Force at the height of the Battle of Britain 75 years ago – “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” – continues to this day as the RAF Association looks to provide additional support to the last survivors of these heroic days.

Saddened by the plight of those Yorkshire veterans like George Thompson and Derrick Allaway, who encountered loneliness and isolation in their old age before passing away, it is thanks to increased awareness about this social issue that a new befriending service is being launched.

These RAF crews were the bravest of the brave. With odds stacked against them, they saved Britain from Nazi tyranny. They gave so much that the very least they deserve is some human kindness, whether a friendly chat or a cup of tea, in their latter years. It’s not too much to ask, is it?