Four years after Rishi Sunak made his mark in the House of Commons with such a perceptive speech on November 6, 2017, the regret is that he appears so reluctant, as Chancellor, to put his words into action.
The Richmond MP will, of course, argue that his Budget committed £150bn of new money to public services, including the first tranche of levelling up funding that will boost many Yorkshire towns.
But his decision not to confirm the status of Northern Powerhouse Rail or eastern leg of HS2, amid fears that both will be scaled back in the long-delayed Integrated Rail Review, does not stand up to scrutiny.
Specifically, the profound point he made to MPs four years ago and which The Yorkshire Post places back on the record this weekend: “The cities and towns of the North are individually strong, but collectively are not strong enough.
“The only way to get the North to punch beyond the collective sum of its parts is to connect those parts. That is why better transport is key to unlocking the North’s true potential.”
Chancellor, what’s changed? Though the Government recognises the benefits of local rail, its dither and delay over Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 – schemes that will transform social mobility and pave the way for more passenger and freight trains to run – is so perturbing that it has even united metro mayors, and senior Tory and Labour politicians, on both sides of the Pennines.
Given this, Mr Sunak should recall another assertion that he made in that speech in the hope that he now pulls rank: “London has Crossrail, the Midlands is getting HS2, and now we in the North need the Government to back Northern Powerhouse Rail.”
This newspaper could not have put it any better so, Mr Sunak, what’s stopping you?
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