Time for politicians to match potential of Northern Powerhouse – The Yorkshire Post says

THANK you to Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines for confirming this week what The Yorkshire Post has been saying for many years now – train services in the North are the poor relation, commuters here deserve better and that the railway industry risks becoming “an industry of victims”.

Commuters in the North have been badly let down, says Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines.

Five years after the launch of the Northern Powerhouse, this blistering intervention – from an industry leader only appointed last summer – makes a mockery of the Government’s inertia and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s feeble excuses.

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Mr Haines did not hold back in his speech to Transport for the North. This region, he confirmed, had borne the brunt of disruption over a “brutal” couple of years; management of the railways was stuck in the past and Network Rail had previously become “disconnected” from its passengers.

George Osborne, the former Chancellor, launched the Northern Powerhouse five years ago.

And the appraisal is so blunt – and valid – that it should, in many respects, be now used to accelerate political change so that the Northern Powerhouse – the brainchild of George Osborne – can build on the progress of the past five years and start to make a daily difference to the lives of the 15 million people who live and work here.

The former Chancellor now edits London’s Evening Standard which has now endorsed the agenda-setting Power Up The North campaign which 33 newspapers, including The Yorkshire Post, launched last week.

Stranded passengers wait for trains during last year's timetable turmoil in the North.

The justification? “It’s simple: we live in one country. It’s hugely in the interests of the capital that our economy is more balanced, and that communities who have felt left behind have a share in our joint future,” the editorial stated.

Furthermore this timely intervention also acknowledged the frustrations felt by many here by calling for “a national government committed not just to the Northern Powerhouse brand but to its substance. That has stalled and needs to be revived”.

This is key. Despite the very laudable intentions of Mr Osborne and many others, the Northern Powerhouse is – to many – just a slogan, not least because Theresa May’s government did not give her wholehearted support to the agenda. And, at a time when public trust of politicians is at a historic low, this will remain the case until the Government becomes fully committed to helping the North realise its ambitions. Second best will no longer suffice.

It is why the test of Mr Haines, and like-minded individuals such as Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, is their ability to deliver reform – namely overhauling their own organisation, making the case for Transport for the North to be given the powers that it needs to start fulfilling its remit and changing the Department for Transport’s entire ethos.

They, and others, don’t even need to wait for the findings of the Rail Review and subsequent White Paper – it will be a major surprise if Keith Williams does not endorse the stance taken by Mr Haines.

In the meantime, this is an opportunity for political, business and civic leaders, together with voters, to influence the Tory leadership debate as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the past and present Foreign Secretaries, battle it out to become the next Prime Minister.

A defining test of the sincerity and trustworthiness of their intentions will be whether these aspiring premiers, who both represent seats close to London, are willing to sign off the £39bn plan to build a new east-west railway line across the North.

Both have issued supportive statements – but only Mr Hunt is also committed at this stage to delivering HS2, the North-South high-speed line which is crucial to the economic case for Northern Powerhouse Rail.

And given the conclusions of Mr Haines, it strengthens our call for the post of Northern Powerhouse Minister to be elevated to the Cabinet immediately so this region’s economic reforms – critical to the future success of the whole country – are not left stuck in the political sidings for another five years.