October 30: Northern Powerhouse or Northern Powercut?

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George Osborne blueprint runs into scepticism

WHAT is the Northern Powerhouse? George Osborne, the politician most closely associated with the phrase, likes to think it is the policy vehicle which will empower regions like Yorkshire and lessen the UK’s economic dependence on London. However the misuse of such phraseology is in danger of devaluing the policy agenda – even Defra’s announcement about the extension of the Yorkshire Dales National Park was set in the context of the “Northern Powerhouse”.

This, coupled with the political fallout from the decision to temporarily “pause” the electrification of the trans-Pennine rail route from Leeds to Manchester, probably explains why less than one quarter of residents in Yorkshire believe that this initiative can actually make a significant difference.

Of course, the Chancellor is not solely to blame – it is not the fault of Mr Osborne, for example, that council and business leaders in Yorkshire are unable to reach a consensus on how best to utilise the devolved powers being offered to them for the greater good of the whole county and its economic advancement.

But the Chancellor does need to realise that he cannot use the “Northern Powerhouse” to pass responsibility for spending decisions from Whitehall to locally-elected mayors. After all, the reason this region’s transport and business infrastructure is lagging behind the rest of the country is because of the collective failure of successive governments not to invest sufficiently in the North. Although Mr Osborne is fond of making announcements on new road and rail schemes, he’s less forthcoming when it comes to the funding and he needs to rectify this when he visits York to launch his National Infrastructure Commission today. If not, the Northern Powerhouse will come to be regarded as the Northern powercut and to the detriment of this region.

Chilcot credibility: Delays will diminish Iraq report

SIX long years after his inquiry into the Iraq war was initiated, Sir John Chilcot still won’t give a precise date for the publication of his much-delayed and long-awaited findings. His language was ambiguous when he informed David Cameron that “it should be possible” to do so “in June or July 2016”. There will be those, not least the families of the 179 UK service personnel killed in this conflict, who will bemoan the PM for not ordering Sir John to “publish and be damned” – this is an independent inquiry and a pre-emptive strike might provide a smokescreen for those political and military figures who can expect censure.

What these delays do not excuse, however, is the fact that the inquiry’s remit was too broad when established by Gordon Brown in 2009 – the focus should have been on the integrity of the Blair government’s decision-making processes prior to the 2003 invasion rather than the whole conflict. If its scope needed to be expanded into the execution of the war, this should have been the subject of a separate inquiry. It is also wrong that key figures have had the right to review any criticisms. How can it be right that they know some of the report’s contents while the families of soldiers killed in the line of duty are being denied this right?

Every passing day, and delay, diminishes the credibility of the Chilcot report still further. For, even when it is published, few will be satisfied – there will have to be the inevitable inquiry into the inquiry and Sir John does not intend to deliver a verdict on the conflict’s legality. Given this is the most crucial question of all into the far-reaching events of more than 12 years ago, this glaring omission makes the procrastination even more indefensible.

Extinction threat: The puffins and Bempton Cliffs

IMAGINE a world without puffins.

Imagine a springtime trip to Bempton Cliffs, one of the most celebrated and beautiful spots in Yorkshire, at a point in the future when these colourful, obliging little birds, shuffling in and out of their cliff-top burrows with beaks loaded with sand eels, are no more.

What a travesty that would be. Indeed, what a tragedy. And yet that appears to be a prospect well within the bounds of possibility.

Puffins have been deemed to be at risk of global extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Cutting through the jargon of their latest report, RSPB conservation director Martin Harper warns that a “global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores”, adding that puffins now face the same level of extinction threat as African elephants and lions, and, shockingly, being more endangered than the humpback whale.

If that isn’t a wake-up call to us all, we don’t know what is.