TOO busy to visit Leeds. I’m afraid this astonishing admission from Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss should, on its own, invalidate her campaign to become Britain’s first female Chancellor.
Why? When Ms Truss was Environment Secretary, she was widely condemned for a wholly inadequate response to the devastating floods of December 2015 – even though she grew up in Leeds. Now, as number two at the Treasury, she is, believe it or not, responsible for the allocation of public funds and Comprehensive Spending Review currently taking place.
And even though David Cameron, the then PM, said the Government would do everything within its power to protect homes and business, Leeds City Council – and local MPs – are still struggling to secure the additional £23.3m that they need for a comprehensive flood defence scheme after an initial £65m was made available.
Their argument is that investment now is a small price to pay to guard against future flooding on an even greater scale – and the impact that this would have on the wider economy – after it was calculated that the Storm Eva floods three-and-a-half years ago caused £36.8m of damage to 3,000 homes and 700 commercial properties.
Yet, when Ms Truss finally got round this week to replying to the letter that council leader Judith Blake, and Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, sent to her on May 29, her response suggested that she had been taking lessons in contempt from her Cabinet colleague Chris Grayling.
“Unfortunately, due to diary constraints, I am unable to offer a date to visit the scheme at this time,” she wrote. “I will ask my office to ensure that they reach out when I am next in the area.”
No wonder so many people mistrust the Government’s approach to the Northern Powerhouse and dismiss it as a ‘‘damp squib’’ – the phrase applied to Ms Truss when she showed Grayling-like complacency in response to the Yorkshire floods. For I bet Ms Truss will find time in her diary if a Tory council in the Thames Valley comes knocking on her door.
COULD Transport Secretary’s Chris Grayling final insult to passengers be the worst one yet? This week a petition was presented to Parliament over disability access at Hull Station.
It comes after failed operator TransPennine Express chose – in its wisdom – to shut the Anlaby Road entrance which is nearest the designated parking spaces for the disabled. According to Hull MP Emma Hardy: “TransPennine’s suggestion that people should call a mobile number and wait to be admitted.” Not only is this blatant discrimination, but it comes as the DfT announces that an extra £20m will be made available for improvements such as textured paving and handrails. And the timescale? According to the DfT: “The work is all part of the Government’s aspiration that by 2030 all major transport hubs and terminals on both public and private transport networks will meet the needs of disabled people, including toilet and changing facilities, straightforward signage, audio and visual messaging and space to navigate.”
Yes, you did read that correctly. The intention – and I did phone to check – is that stations will be disabled-friendly by 2030. That is 11 years down the line – and a betrayal of the disabled. Sorry, the target should be 2025 – at the very latest – and I, for one, will judge Mr Grayling’s successor by their willingness to meet this challenge.
BORIS Johnson – and leadership rival Jeremy Hunt – continue to promise extra money for secondary schools. Yet they forget that education begins at the home and then in primary schools.
This is even more important after the Department for Education confirmed that one third of children will leave primary school this summer without a good grounding in the three Rs. That’s 200,000 youngsters playing catch-up from the moment they walk into secondary school – and 200,000 reasons why the new PM needs a more enlightened approach to education policy-making.
IN exchanges over school academy trusts, David Blunkett – himself a former Education Secretary – stood up in the House of Lords and said: “Mistakes have been made in allocating knighthoods by governments of all persuasions.” I wonder who he had in mind...
IF Theresa May thinks her troubles will end when she leaves 10 Downing Street, she should think again. Her party’s position in Parliament is so tenuous that she will be compelled to take part in every Brexit vote. What will take precedence – the national interest, set out so clearly by Sir John Major, one of her predecessors, or loyalty to her successor?
I LIKED Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield’s line after it emerged that 100 senior civil servants had left the Brexit department. Junior minister Kwasi Kwarteng’s suggestion that contracts had come to an end was unconvincing. As Mr Blomfield observed: “It’s not so much ‘yes, Minister’ as ‘I quit, Minister’.”
GIVEN Boris Johnson will never be more than one gaffe away from diplomatic disaster, I wonder if the Tory party will insist that he appoints a deputy prime minister who could take immediate charge in a crisis? Even if Mr Johnson has no plans to do so, Conservative grandees should insist – if only to lessen the growing risk of the Queen being dragged into a constitutional crisis if her next PM proves unsuited for high office.
ASKED about a Boris Johnson premiership, and the state of Britain by October 31 when the country is now due to leave the EU, Tory grandee Ken Clarke remarked very honesty: “I don’t know – and neither does Boris.” It says it all.