EVEN though the national media will focus on the Brexit heckler who interrupted Boris Johnson’s latest policy speech on the Northern Powerhouse, it must not detract from the substance of his message.
Here was the Prime Minister – just a week after visiting The Yorkshire Post – setting out plans to kickstart Yorkshire devolution. And, significantly, the Tory leader recognised that rail services here are not fit for purpose – he described them as ‘patchy’ – and that he would like to see transport policy devolved to the North.
A key demand of the Power Up The North campaign which The Yorkshire Post and more than 30 newspapers launched in June, it illustrates the extent to which the dynamics of the policy debate have been changed. This was Mr Johnson’s third visit to Yorkshire in a month – and his past experience as Mayor of London has certainly added impetus to the Northern Powerhouse policy agenda.
Yet, while the PM’s critics will, with reason, dismiss this as electioneering, the Prime Minister’s words are on the record and he used much of his speech to highlight the wider economic importance of reliable rail services and dismay that Pacer trains are still in service.
With anger growing that operators like Northern and TransPennine Express cannot lose their franchises if key performance targets are missed, Mr Johnson’s proposal for a transport boss who is ultimately “accountable” to the public for delivering services here is a timely one after another rapid deterioration in punctuality and reliability.
Moving forward, the challenge for political and business leaders here is ensuring that Mr Johnson – and his team – honour these many commitments amid the turmoil at Parliament. Their best approach is to maintain the united front – largely apolitical – which is already changing the mindset of the Government when it comes to powering up the North.