Why are London civil servants afraid of Barnsley, Bradford and Hull? – Tom Richmond

THERE was a telling admission this week after Leeds was confirmed as the location for the Department for Transport’s ‘‘Northern hub’’.

The Department for Transport plans to open a Northern hub in Leeds, but will London-based civil servants move here?

It came from Chris Heaton-Harris, the Rail Minister, who conceded that Whitehall-based civil servants think that London’s public transport provision is replicated across the country.

This, he says, is because they “can step outside the office and immediately get on to a bus to go to a Tube station and then finish their commute on a train”.

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As such, they – and their counterparts from other Whitehall ministries moving out of the capital – could be in for a culture shock if and when they finally head northwards.

The Department for Transport plans to open a Northern hub in Leeds, but will London-based civil servants move here?

Or will they? Looking at the announcements so far, Ministers and/or the Sir Humphreys of Whitehall appear to be choosing locations which appear to have very good rail connections to London.

The Treasury North campus is earmarked for Darlington which is on the East Coast Main Line.

Likewise Leeds which will host this DfT ‘‘hub’’ and the National Infrastructure Bank set out in the Budget.

Meanwhile Birmingham – just 90 minutes or so by train from London – will be the DfT’s “second HQ” while Wolverhampton, just a stop further along the West Coast Main Line, will be the base for staff from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

Chanclelor Rishi Sunak has announced plans to open a Treasury North campus in Darlington.

The West Coast line could be busy after the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office announced bases in Glasgow – presumably to counter the SNP clamour for Scottish independence.

And why is this significant? In an era of ‘‘home working’’, I’m still to be convinced that officials – and their families – will leave London in the intended numbers and begin new lives in the real world.

I suspect that they’ll get round this by commuting from London and spending a couple of nights at best in a Travelodge, and the rest of time at home.

But this would be slightly more difficult if the Government moved Whitehall staff to those areas – Bradford, Barnsley and Hull spring to mind – where train links to London are less reliable, where the ‘‘levelling up’’ issues are more challenging and where the untapped potential has still to be recognised.

And then the Government might realise why it was wrong to compare bus services and so on between these areas, and rural communities, when setting out the criteria for the controversial Levelling Up Fund. For, while public transport provision in such towns is better than in the Dales and Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Richmond seat, it is still the poor relation when compared to London.

AT last a ‘‘levelling up’’ objective from Boris Johnson after he played the role of bus conductor just 48 hours after this column took him, and the Government, to task for vague platitudes.

“Levelling up services across the country will encourage more people to use the bus, rather than the car, as we build back better from the pandemic,” he declared.

At least he was more specific than Communities Minister Eddie Hughes who gave this statement to Parliament on the Levelling Up Fund: “We are working with local areas to ensure that every region, every city and every town will recover from Covid-19 and level up.”

What does ‘‘level up’’ mean, Minister?

TONY Blair and David Cameron – remember them? – both quit the Commons after leaving 10 Downing Street while Gordon Brown sat, and largely sulked, on the backbenches for five years after losing the 2010 election.

Contrast this with Theresa May who is becoming fearless at pointing out the shortcomings of legislation; the latest being the Crime Bill and how Home Secretaries could have the right to curtail future public protests.

“It is tempting when Home Secretary to think that giving powers to the Home Secretary is very reasonable, because we all think we are reasonable, but future Home Secretaries may not be so reasonable,” she warned as demanded a draft of the proposed regulations for scrutiny.

Well said – it was precisely the type of stance on scrutiny that former premiers should be taking.

AS Labour leader, Ed Miliband wanted online giants such as Amazon and 
Google to pay a fairer share of tax in the UK. “This is something the world has got to get to grips with,” he said.

As Shadow Business Secretary, the Doncaster North MP wants the Government to do more to support existing high streets and town centres.

“The world increasingly moving 
online means scope for innovation, but there must be a level playing field between the high street and online retail,” he said.

Perhaps he could put this to the test in June when he launches his new book. It is called Go Big: How To Fix Our World.

LABOUR’S Tracy Brabin will have to 
work with the Government if she becomes West Yorkshire’s first elected mayor in May. Yet her first campaign leaflet says the vaccine rollout is “working well” now it is “in the capable hands of the NHS and supported by local volunteers”.

What about the scientists who developed the vaccine; the Government who procured supplies and the local councils who are integral to this mass inoculation exercise?

RACHAEL Blackmore made history 
when she rode Honeysuckle to victory in this week’s Champion Hurdle – and became he first female rider to win the elite race as she reigned at Cheltenham.

She took the fuss in her stride. Yet perhaps the best tribute is the number of male riders who now aspire to her level of horsemanship. That’s real praise.

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