Save HS2 by spelling out why it is still right to invest £106bn – Tom Richmond

SHOULD HS2 be scrapped to help the country balance the books after the coronavirus crisis?

Should HS2 still go ahead in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic?

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Home Secretary Priti Patel must answer scrutiny request - Tom Richmond

It is a question being asked by readers of The Yorkshire Post with increasing frequency as Britain braces itself for an unprecedented 35 per cent hit to GDP.

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Why, people ask, should over £106bn be spent on this North-South railway line when unemployment is projected to hit three million in the coming months?

Boris Johnson and the Cabinet backed HS2 in February.

And this dilemma has even more relevance after Ministers gave the go-ahead this week for the first phase of HS2, from London to Birmingham, to formally enter the construction phase.

I, for one, believe the project should still go ahead – nothing has materially changed since early February when Boris Johnson and the Cabinet backed HS2.

Yes, more executives are using Skype and other forms of digital communication but high-speed rail is about increasing future capacity on the rest of the network – it should never have been about speed – and this challenge will remain long after the pandemic has passed.

As HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said this week: “We cannot delay work on our long-term plan to level up the country.”

Work is already underway on the first phases of HS2.

But – and this is key – proponents of HS2 now have the fight of their lives on their hands to justify such expenditure at a time of national crisis.

It is why the Minister must get on the front foot and explain, clearly, how this scheme will assist the economic recovery if the best of British manufacturing is utilised and how the £106bn will be paid in stages.

It means Transport for the North, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and others producing data to confirm the number of extra commuter services that will run as a result of HS2.

And it requires local authorities, like Leeds and Sheffield city councils, making sure that the North gains maximum benefits – and that HS2 is fully integrated into Northern Powerhouse Rail.

If not, public opposition will now stop HS2 in its tracks.

A REGULAR reader makes an 
eminently sensible suggestion about the shortage of protective clothing in hospitals and care homes in light of Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s assertion that some equipment was going to waste.

Why, they ask, could hospitals not 
use designated Covid-19 laundries that could wash and disinfect suitable items so they can be re-used as an interim measure?

They have no idea about the practicalities – they accept it might be possible – but it’s a question worthy of discussion.

As they say: “Re-use of PPE would have a huge impact on the problem that has been reported daily for weeks and shows no sign of abating.”

I DID not know that Priti Patel was going to front the 10 Downing Street press conference last Saturday within hours of my critical comments about the Home Secretary.

Yet I’m even more convinced she’s not up to the job after she was asked twice to apologise to NHS staff and their families over the lack of “necessary PPE”.

She said: “I’m sorry if people feel there have been failings. I will be very, very clear about that.”

Talk about half-hearted. And arrogant.

AS Boris Johnson convalesces, he must be wondering how to thank Jenny McGee, from New Zealand, and Luis Pitarma, from Portugal, whom the Prime Minister credits with saving his life from Covid-19.

What is still unclear is whether these NHS heroes would qualify for entry to the UK under the post-Brexit points-based system/earnings threshold Priti Patel wants to implement.

With some limited exceptions, foreign workers will be expected to earn more than £25,600, have a job offer and speak English to a certain level to get a work visa.

I wonder if the Tory leader will now see the light.

SIR Keir Starmer has staked his early reputation on eradicating anti-Semitism from within Labour’s ranks. He must not end there – other proponents of hatred need the new leader’s urgent attention.

Like Leeds councillor Julie Heselwood, who posted on Facebook that the PM had been admitted to hospital as “a publicity stunt” to gain “sympathy and to change the narrative”. “Don’t fall for it,” she added.

Though she apologised, she remains a councillor for Bramley and Stanningley. Does Sir Keir think her position is tenable and why has Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake not taken a harder line?

In an era of fake news, such comments are all the more reprehensible coming from an elected public servant.

MEANWHILE West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s empire-building continues.

In conjunction with the European Social Fund, it has been looking for a “team leader” to work on a “skills for growth” project to help SMEs “engage with the full breadth of the education system”.

The salary is up to £40,924 per annum for three years. All very worthy but I’m sure it doesn’t merit another addition to the public payroll when business could do the job for half the price – or less.

FINALLY, a salute to 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore, the indomitable Yorkshireman who has raised millions for NHS charities by walking round his garden to thank the nurses who treated him for cancer and a broken hip. Yorkshire’s spirit is still as strong as ever.

And a happy 100th birthday, ‘Sir’ Tom.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson

Editor