THE timing could not have been worse for David Cameron after the Prime Minister travelled to Edinburgh to set out the unprecedented political and economic powers that are set to be devolved to Scotland following Westminster’s knee-jerk reaction to last year’s independence referendum.
His talks with a beaming Nicola Sturgeon, the new First Minister, simply served as a reminder about the extent to which England – and the North in particular – now plays second fiddle to Scotland.
Having promised “English votes for English laws” on Downing Street’s steps on the morning after last September’s vote, what has Mr Cameron achieved?
Deadlock at Westminster with no prospect of the impasse being reconciled before the General Election, no reform to the outdated Barnett Formula that so favours the Scots over the rest of the UK on the allocation of public funds and a defiant Ms Sturgeon now saying that Scottish Nationalist MPs returned to Westminster will vote on English health laws, not least to safeguard NHS spending levels north of the border.
Once again, Mr Cameron finds himself being outmanoeuvred by the SNP and it is little wonder, therefore, that the Local Government Association is now warning that “millions in England risk becoming second-class citizens” unless there is a Constitutional Convention on the future governance of this country.
Its intention is well-intended, even though the creation of such forums are time-consuming and simply lead to further delays in the decision-making process when regions, like Yorkshire, do not have time on their side if they are to become economic powerhouses. While Mr Cameron will point to the devolution of new powers to Manchester and Sheffield, with Leeds reportedly next in the queue, there are legitimate concerns about whether this process is too piecemeal and masking the coalition’s reluctance to explain how it expects town halls to fund essential services, such as care of the elderly and vulnerable, with much-reduced budgets in the next Parliament.
Is it any wonder that the English do feel marginalised, and let down, by Mr Cameron’s latest capitulation to the Scots when he is the Prime Minister tasked with representing the whole of the United Kingdom fairly?
Train of thought
Fares must be fair over rail cash
DEVOLUTION is not the only issue where Yorkshire remains the poor relation – the same also applies to transport investment which remains skewed in London’s favour. This is borne out by today’s Parliamentary report that seeks greater transparency over the distribution of funds. It is advice that the next Government must heed from day one – especially as rail and road improvements are critical to turning the North into the dynamic “economic powerhouse” currently envisaged by George Osborne.
Commuters should be able to travel in a degree of relative comfort on modern rolling stock rather than the outdated Pacer trains that should already have been shunted off to the National Railway Museum, and which would not be tolerated by politicians or travellers alike on London’s key routes.
Though Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has stated his desire to introduce new rolling stock, today’s report suggests that Ministers need to take charge of this issue rather than leaving it to the new operators being sought for the TransPennine and Northern franchises.
It sets a deadline of 2020 for the abolition of the Pacer carriages – one which needs to be met on time if Yorkshire’s train travellers are to receive a fairer deal.
Winds of change
Siemens must signal a new era
ON A landmark day for Hull when work finally began on the Siemens turbine factory which has the potential to transform a proud city that has been perceived to be an economic back-water for too long, the winds of change are still awaited in the neighbouring East Riding where the number of mobile phone blackspots is scandalous.
Even though the Government is committed to improving connectivity to 90 per cent of Britain by 2017, this is no consolation to those areas that will be omitted – or those rural residents who will still have to pay their mobile phone providers for basic services, like text messages, which they cannot fully utilise.
Given that the flat landscape offers none of the challenges posed by the Lake District or Scottish Highlands for example, Ministers need to prioritise East Yorkshire so it, too, can benefit from the prosperity that will be generated by Siemens and its vote of confidence in Hull.