Tom Richmond: Osborne fuels a debate on cash for the regions

GEORGE Osborne went on the attack this week, saying Labour was over-borrowing – and imperilling the nation’s finances – before the credit crunch and the recession.

The Chancellor noted that Britain went from having the second best structural position among the G7 in 2000 to the worst by 2007 before the world economic crisis.

That may be so. Such assertions will certainly appease some of his critics who believe Labour’s legacy has not been placed in its proper political, economic and historical context.

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However, it will not reassure those who contend that the coalition’s cuts are crippling the middle classes and sparking record rises in youth unemployment – two issues that are particularly pertinent in Yorkshire.

What can Osborne do? Take fuel. Prices – already at a record level – continue to go up because of the Middle East crisis, and this is before the planned 5p increase in the Budget takes effect.

Yet the Treasury is now reluctant to impose the fuel price stabiliser that Osborne promised prior to the election because it is the primary beneficiary of the spike in petrol and diesel costs – to the tune of an additional £2bn above forecasts.

“That’s £2bn fewer cuts to libraries and so forth,” explained a Treasury aide before dismissing the prospect of a rerun of the 2000 fuel protestst (when the price per litre was 80p compared to £1.30 today).

I disagree. This is money that could yield some sort of dividend if it was ring-fenced – and then divided among the English regions to spend on infrastructure projects like transport improvements.

These are schemes that are already planned and costed – they just need the money. And, as well as cutting congestion, just think how many engineering and building jobs could be created if this £2bn was re-invested in the English regions?

The Transport Select Committee said this week that policy, and funding, was skewed in London’s favour – another reason why this approach requires the green light. Go for it George. What’s stopping you?

HERE’S an insight into why Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor and Normanton MP, is rapidly becoming the darling of the Labour Party – despite his past reputation for divisiveness.

According to an exasperated insider in the know, it takes Balls – and his staff – minutes to sign off any policy statements or rebuttals of Treasury policy while this process, at leader Ed Miliband’s office, still takes hours at the quickest, and invariably days.

It is further confirmation that Balls has become more accustomed to life in opposition than many of his colleagues.

CREDIT to Sir John Major, Tory prime minister for 1990-97, for providing some perspective on his successor Tony Blair’s “handshake” with Libyan tyrant Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Rather than condemning Blair, Sir John said it was “very easy” to be critical in retrospect and added: “I do observe some of the outcomes. One of them is that Gaddafi moved away from weapons of mass destruction, that was a very significant prize.”

While, in retrospect, it was “slightly embarrassing in some ways” he went on: “I have to say, government is a tough business. International politics isn’t a Hampstead debating society.”

He would know after being vilified, at the time, for opening communication channels with Sinn Fein / IRA that preceded the Northern Ireland peace process, Major’s greatest legacy.

THOSE MPs so critical of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg for taking a break during the half-term holidsay last week, as Libya imploded, are probably the same MPs who would condemn the Sheffield MP if he took his children out of lessons during term-time.

THE Government says the election of new police commissioners will lead to greater public accountability as thousands of officers, and support staff, lose their jobs across Yorkshire.

Already Colin Inglis has put his name forward. He is the controversial former leader of Hull City Council and a former police authority chairman who once had a stand-off with David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, in 2004, over the suspension of Humberside’s then chief constable David Westwood following the Soham scandal.

I’m not quite sure this is the type of candidate that the Government has in mind.

But, more fundamentally, if you’re unhappy with the police in the future – and, say, a call to report a crime is not responded to promptly – who do you blame?

The Home Secretary who is content to allow cuts to so many crucial posts? The Chief Constable for not protecting “front line” posts? Or the police commissioner elected on a promise to tackle neighbourhood policing? Discuss.

LIKE its Labour predecessor, the Tory-led government is retaining the pretence that the whole country will benefit from the 2012 Olympics.

So why, therefore, is a school banning children from playing football in the area of Liverpool where England captain Steven Gerrard grew up – softer balls are being recommended – and why are youngsters in Oxfordshire being forbidden from wearing swimming goggles in case the elastic snaps?

Will the “nanny state” ever receive the red card?

AS Ashley Cole becomes the latest footballer to be fined two weeks’ wages for a disciplinary breach – this time for discharging a weapon and injuring a work placement student at Chelsea’s training ground – what happens to this money?

It’s not an inconsiderable sum; Cole is expected to £250,000 out of pocket for his latest moment of madness. But why should the club, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, keep the money. How about a public cheque presentation to charity?