A Cabinet Minister has claimed that the transport system in Leeds “needs to be improved” but refused to back the section of the under-threat HS2 high speed rail scheme connecting Yorkshire’s biggest city to London.
During a visit to Leeds, Conservative International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said infrastructure should be the Government’s “number one priority”.
She cited Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to deliver high speed train travel between Manchester and Leeds as part of Northern Powerhouse Rail, one of a number of eye-catching promises to the North ahead of an anticipated General Election.
But asked whether the axeing of the Birmingham to Leeds section of HS2, which is reported to be one of the recommendations of the government-commissioned Oakervee review, would be a blow to city businesses, Mrs Truss declined to explicitly support the scheme.
The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was educated at Roundhay School in Leeds and whose parents still live in the city, said: “The Transport Secretary is conducting this review and we’ve got to wait for the outcome of that review.
“The key thing is that we get value for money and that was my job as Chief Secretary, making sure that every single penny of government money was getting value.
“In terms of Leeds, Yorkshire, there is no doubt in my mind that the transport system needs to be improved.
“I’m one of the people who has pointed out that Leeds is the largest city in Europe without its own mass transit network, that the transportation here is not good enough, there have been decades of failure to invest enough money into it.
“One thing that Boris Johnson is very committed to is levelling up spend on infrastructure and making sure that Yorkshire and the North of England does not lose out.
“So, hence the commitment to the Manchester-Leeds upgrade, but also making sure that local transport is good enough, making sure that people can get in and out of Leeds I think is extremely important.
“So, we are extremely committed to doing more than that and this is something that I know the Transport Secretary is working very hard on.”
As well as committing £9bn to high speed rail between Leeds and Manchester, Mr Johnson has promised full fibre broadband across the UK, 20,000 new police officers and tax cuts that would cost £10bn a year.
The Prime Minister says the bill could be funded from £26.6bn of “fiscal headroom”, meaning government borrowing which came in lower than originally expected.
The PM has been accused by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of making “unfunded promises”. Asked whether the raft of promises risked damaging the Tories’ reputation for sound handling of the nation’s finances, Mrs Truss said Chancellor Sajid Javid would spell out the detail of how they would be paid for “in due course”.
She said: “But I think there is a fundamental issue, which is that parts of the country and Yorkshire is one example, have not seen enough investment in infrastructure.
“So I think it is the right thing for government to be spending money on.
“I’m a fiscal conservative, I don’t approve of government spraying money all over the place. But I think infrastructure should be our number one priority, I really do.”