AMONG the historic locomotives on display at the National Railway Museum in York, visitors should be able to find a curious little train built as a temporary solution to a shortage of rolling stock in the 1980s.
But it’s not there because it’s still ferrying passengers for Northern Rail. The Pacer train, made by welding the body of a bus to a freight wagon, was supposed to be a museum piece by now but its arrival in York has once again been delayed – because there’s nothing ready to replace it.
The rickety Pacer is a sorry symbol of the lack of investment in the North of England so it’s no surprise then that so many people feel angry and ignored. Who can blame them? They have been robbed of their future by a years of damaging austerity and a chronic lack of investment.
The Conservative promise to create a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ turned out to be a cruel joke. They didn’t devolve power. They devolved austerity that hit the North the hardest.
So I welcome the Power Up The North campaign by 33 Northern websites and newspapers, including The Yorkshire Post. The need for far greater investment and more opportunity in the North is urgent and unarguable.
But delivering it will need fundamental change. Britain has a brilliant manufacturing sector, especially in the North. But its success has been despite the Conservative government, not because of it.
Labour has very different priorities. We will rebuild Britain by supporting industries and creating secure, well-paid jobs. With a serious industrial strategy, the economy can be a tool in our hands, rather than the master of our fate.
A Labour government will set up a National Investment Bank, backed up by a network of Regional Development Banks, so investment gets to where it’s needed.
Unlike private banks, they won’t gamble on the money markets, they will invest in local businesses and communities. Elected representatives and local stakeholders will sit on their boards, and they will be able to set their own priorities, allowing the North to rebuild its economy on its own terms.
Vital Development Bank funding will be made available to local businesses through a new Post Bank. It will provide trusted, face-to-face banking to people and businesses alike. For the pensioner, the disabled person, the single parent who currently struggles to get to the bank, it will be a godsend. It will stem the tide of post office closures and help revive high streets. Labour will also overhaul business rates, introduce free wifi in town centres, and ban ATM charges.
A core task of the next Labour government will be to kickstart a Green Industrial Revolution. The climate emergency demands we take rapid and dramatic action to reduce our greenhouse emissions. That’s not a burden; it’s a huge opportunity to bring new manufacturing jobs in renewable energy to places that have never recovered from the destruction of industry at the hands of Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party.
New jobs will require new skills. I want the legacy of the next Labour government to be a National Education Service that is universal and free for life – just like the NHS – allowing people to retrain. It will encourage real equality between technical and academic education. And of course, a Labour government will properly fund our schools.
The sight of homeless people huddled in doorways in towns and cities is heart-breaking. In the fifth richest country in the world no one should have to sleep rough. Labour will tackle the root cause of homelessness – the housing crisis – with a massive programme of house building, including council houses.
Everyone knows that the infrastructure is desperately in need of an upgrade. Labour has pledged a £250bn National Transformation Fund to improve our transport, energy and digital infrastructure, and we will work with Mayors and local representatives to identify the specific needs of the North.
Last year I travelled from Liverpool to Hull on the TransPennine Express. The 126-mile journey takes nearly three hours. But if I went from London to Paris on the Eurostar, the 286-mile trip would take 40 minutes less. That’s why we need Labour’s Crossrail for the North to connect our great Northern cities and link up with HS2 – which must push on north of Birmingham.
Transport spending is currently £344 per head in the North, compared to £944 in London. Labour will bring the railways into public ownership so we can deliver reliable services and we will reverse the cuts to bus routes, encourage councils to run bus services, and, where they do, offer free bus travel for under-25s.The plans I have outlined here will mean a big shake-up. But a shake-up is necessary to free our economy from its dependence on the City of London and reverse decades of neglect of the North.
I’m proud that 16 of my shadow cabinet team represent northern seats (the Conservative cabinet has just two). Only a radical Labour government that understands the needs of the North and its people can deliver the shift in power and resources you desperately need.
Jeremy Corbyn MP is leader of the Labour party.