New lessons in social mobility

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DAVID Cameron is unlikely to accede to calls to pump more money into this region’s deprived areas in response to new concerns about a stark divide between Yorkshire’s wealthier areas – and those communities that continue to be blighted by deprivation.

In a staunch defence of his policy record, he told Prime Minister’s Questions this week that “inequality is at its lowest level since 1986: one million fewer people are in relative poverty and half a million fewer children are in child poverty”.

He was right to do so. This coalition has been far more conscious of its obligations to the whole of the society than Conservative administrations of the past, even though the North-South divide is still pronounced – as is the gulf in living standards between different parts of Yorkshire.

Mr Cameron’s government is making positive progress at a time when public spending is having to be squeezed following Labour’s 13 wasteful years of extravagance and over-indulgence that did not do enough to help the poorest members of society to become more aspirational and embrace work.

Yet this is not a time for complacency, despite Mr Cameron’s bullishness after energy giant Siemens agreed to create 1,000 jobs in Hull this week in one of the biggest boosts to British manufacturing – and the North – since Margaret Thatcher’s reign. More than 900,000 young people are out of work despite the recent fall in unemployment, and this remains one of the Government’s greatest policy challenges.

Three other points should also be gleaned from today’s findings. First, the emergence of ‘big data’ should make it easier for governments and councils to trace the effectiveness of their policies, and identify those areas that require early intervention.

Second, more money will not always be the answer – the key is spending existing resources more effectively than the last Labour government.

Third, education is key to narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Without sound schooling, Yorkshire will continue to be divided by those who excel academically and those who do not possess the skills that enable them to stand on their own two feet. It’s that fundamental.

Enforcement of parking laws

THE fact that Yorkshire councils generated a £32m profit last year from the imposition of parking fines and charges will only serve to alienate those who believe that motorists are being unfairly penalised.

However some perspective is required. Without restrictions being implemented, Yorkshire’s towns and cities will become even more congested because of the inconsiderate actions of a selfish minority who think it is acceptable to park on a double yellow line while they nip to the cashpoint.

Despite this, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill, the Scarborough MP, is right to acknowledge the perception that motorists are being unfairly penalised and that traffic wardens should use some discretion when handing out penalties.

That said, this should be the preserve of democratically-elected local councillors rather than the Department for Transport. As today’s statistics reveal, the likes of Leeds, Harrogate and York have a very hard-nosed approach to penalties in comparison to Sheffield and Doncaster where there is greater leniency. If motorists believe they are being made scapegoats, they can do no worse than challenge their local councillor to justify their decision. By doing so, they might just help to reinvigorate local democracy.

Boardman and cycling’s funding

the stinging criticism of the Government’s funding for cycling, and its ambivalent approach towards winning the race to stage the Tour de France’s Grand Départ, is even more pertinent because it has been voiced by Chris Boardman. Why? His largely unexpected gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was, in many respects, the catalyst for a cycling revolution that has seen so many British bikers become world-beaters.

One of the sport’s great names, he is only too aware of the transformation that has taken place since he conquered the Olympics on a shoestring budget. He is also acutely aware how cycling can improve the health and wellbeing of riders, and that the right structures need to be in place to exploit the feelgood factor that will be generated by the Grand Départ.

Ministers must not ignore these remarks. After all, the politicians who decide funding are the same individuals who are the first in the queue for tickets for these top events.