AT LEAST Andrew Jones, the Rail Minister, acknowledged the size of his task facing him when he addressed Transport for the North’s latest policy conference. “I am keenly aware of under-investment in transport,” the Harrogate MP told his audience.
His tone was more constructive than the stance previously taken by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who was receiving a vote of confidence from 10 Downing Street as Mr Jones actually sought to build bridges with business and political leaders.
Yet words alone will not suffice. Mr Jones, appointed two months ago today, will be judged by his actions and whether he can even restore confidence in the Department for Transport after it was brought into such disrepute by Mr Grayling’s many scandals.
And, for starters, the Minister has three key tests. First HS2 and mounting concerns over its cost. Though Mr Jones said reports speculating about the cancellation of the scheme’s Northern sections were “nonsense”, public and political opposition will grow unless Ministers make a more convincing economic case.
Next Northern Powerhouse Rail. Though Mr Jones understands the scheme’s obvious potential, and how it can complement HS2, passengers are alarmed that work improving links between the North’s key cities may not begin for another five years when they believe the need is immediate.
Finally, Mr Jones will only win the confidence of commuters here by taking decisive action against those private train operators, like Northern and TransPennine Express, whose shoddy service is tantamount to a breach of contract. This is key. If the Minister emerges from the shadows and wins this battle, it will show that he means business when it comes to standing up for the North to ensure that his region – Mr Jones is rightly proud of his Yorkshire roots – receives fairer funding at the very least in the future.