THERE is not a community left unscarred by almost a decade of savage Government spending cuts. Three different Conservative prime ministers have pursued the same flawed strategies on key areas such as the economy and Europe that have seen Tory MPs quitting in despair.
The decision in Parliament this week to vote for a general election on December 12 gives people in Yorkshire and the rest of Britain a chance to change that. Over the coming weeks you will see a procession of Conservative ministers – largely with constituencies in the South – coming here on the election trail to tell us just how much they are spending and plan to spend in our great region.
However, the reality of the last decade tells us a very different story from the Northern Powerhouse we were promised. There is a huge squeeze on living standards, made worse by the wage stagnation endured by people as a result of the Government’s economic policies.
When it comes to transport, almost everyone has a story about the often appalling rail services in Leeds and across the region that mean they are late for work, miss important appointments and face regular delays.
Perhaps most graphically, passengers have suffered rain coming through the roofs of dilapidated Pacer trains, with far too many of the 1980s ageing units still in use – despite Government promises they would be replaced. Delays and overcrowded trains are painfully frequent.
Bus travellers in Leeds have also just been landed with inflation-busting fare rises.
The hikes come after the Campaign for Better Transport revealed last month that more than 3,000 bus routes across the country had been lost or reduced in the last decade.
We are paying more for poorer services.
The group said central government funding fell by 19 per cent in that time and that national government spending on buses had fallen by £234M in real terms over the past decade. That is the harsh truth of the Conservatives’ investment promises.
Over the last 10 years, average annual public spending on transport was £739 per head on London compared to just £305 per head on the North, according to IPPR North.
Boris Johnson and the Conservatives talk about spending more on transport in the North, but the reality is that for the last 10 years London received 2.4 times more public spending on transport than the North. It does not have to be this way.
A Labour government would take our rail services back into public ownership again, starting with Northern which has so badly let down customers.
That would give the public real control over our railways and provide the chance to transform a lamentable service.
Now that First are selling their bus network we should be looking at buying it for the people of West Yorkshire to turn around those services too.
We would be able to make bus services democratically accountable and ensure that the focus was on serving our communities instead of delivering profits and dividends for a US-owned business.
It is a similar story of under-funding when it comes to the NHS and our local schools. The Government’s decision to cut spending on public services has had a terrible impact on people across the region.
And we’re still waiting for the Government to keep its word about properly protecting Leeds from a repeat of the devastating 2015 floods that caused damage to more than 2,600 homes and 700 commercial buildings.
It’s been almost four years and there’s still a multi-million pound gap when it comes to fully funding those urgently-needed defences. We keep hearing about Government investment, but we see precious little evidence.
The forthcoming election gives us what Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn rightly described as a once-in-a-generation chance to transform our country.
Under a Labour government our region would get the investment that it has been denied for so long under the Conservatives.
With polling day looming, Boris Johnson and the Tories will try to make this election all about Brexit.
However, the only Brexit they are offering is one that will be catastrophic for jobs and the economy – especially manufacturing in the North – while the hedge funds in London’s Mayfair will be making billions by speculating and gambling our futures.
But we need to move on from Brexit – giving the people the final say – and get a new government focused with laser-like precision on the everyday issues that matter to people across our region like overhauling our transport system and protecting our NHS.
We have to invest in public services and affordable housing, creating jobs and a strong economy, reversing policing cuts to make our streets safer, tackling the climate crisis and giving people in rented homes more protection our top priorities.
The election campaign now underway gives us a chance to replace Johnson’s rudderless and clapped-out administration with a new Labour government determined to deliver real change to make Britain a better, fairer society.
Rachel Reeves is the Labour MP for Leeds West. She chairs Parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.