Why Pacer trains should become a retirement home for Chris Grayling – Tom Richmond

HERE are two possible uses for the antiquated Pacer trains that – in the final insult to the North – are to be given a new lease of life by the Government after presumably being deemed surplus to requirements by the National Railway Museum and local scrap merchants.

New uses are being sought for the North's Pacer trains.

One of the carriages should be a retirement home for Chris Grayling so the Transport Secretary has a permanent reminder about how he let down passengers here – while another could be converted into a bunker for the new Prime Minister. Believe me, they will need it.

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Yet such ‘scraps’ epitomise the Government’s approach to these parts – and why all those fighting to succeed Theresa May are duty-bound to publish a manifesto for the North as part of their prospectus for power. It’s the very least that commuters here deserve.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP continues to be mocked.

After all, Ministers now have so little to do and are so devoid of ideas, as the business of government moves even more slowly than these ghastly old rattle-trap trains, that it took two politicians to justify their existence and launch a new ‘competition’ to find new users for these Pacers.

The first was Rail Minister Andrew Jones who believes the Pacers – buses converted into makeshift trains 30 years ago – could become community spaces, changing rooms, cafes or new village halls. Three carriages are up for recycling – more than 100 others could, in time, be up for grabs. The Harrogate MP even undertook a Ministerial visit to Leeds to launch a ‘competition’ for ideas where he – inadvertently or otherwise – revealed the futility of the plan.

“The Pacers have been the workhorses of the North’s rail network, connecting communities for more than 30 years, but it is clear that they have outstayed their welcome,” said Mr Jones on an official Department for Transport press release.

And then Jake Berry, the 40-year-old Northern Powerhouse Minister, reminisced, wistfully, about how he “travelled to school on a Pacer train” and how he looks “forward to getting on board again to see how these old carriages will continue to provide a valuable service for many years to come”.

Sorry, all this reveals is the extent to which the Government has lost touch with reality ahead of the Pacers finally being withdrawn from the rail network at the end of the year if – and that is the key word – there are no more unforeseen reprieves.

Not only should this have happened years ago, but it is even more galling Ministers think that alternative uses can be found for these carriages – such a state of affairs would certainly not be tolerated in the leafy constituencies in the Home Counties that so many Tory leadership contenders represent.

And it is even more perturbing that naive Ministers like Mr Berry think this provides an “exciting opportunity for our grassroots community groups across the North to bring people together through this competition”.

Exciting? The only curiosity is he’s not suggested Pacers becoming homeless hostels or old folks’ homes – or perhaps he is waiting for Boris Johnson, the man he is backing for the Tory leadership, to do so. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me – or voters here.

I POSED a very simple question when Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that he was standing to be Prime Minister – why has he not published the long-awaited and long-overdue Green Paper on social care?

The fact he has not provided any answer suggests, to me, that he does not have the answers to this great policy challenge and his use of expletives, to try to illustrate his pro-business credential, was just another ruse to mask his shortcomings.

After all, even leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg – the very wealthy Old Etonian and chairman of the European Research Group – acknowledged in this newspaper yesterday that “social care reform is one of the great challenges where the people need to see new political leadership”.

It won’t come from Matt Hancock.

AS seven Cabinet Ministers – apologies if I have missed someone out – fight for the Tory leadership, who is actually running their Whitehall departments and should taxpayers be footing the bill while these politicians are effectively on a sabbatical?

Still, I see no one has sought endorsement from their Cabinet colleague Chris Grayling because they know that the backing of the failed Transport Secretary would mean an immediate end to their campaign.

And even the bookmakers recognise his failings. While David Cameron – remember him? – is 200-1 to be the next premier, even though he is not a MP, Mr Grayling – still a member of Theresa May’s Cabinet against all odds – is the rank outsider at 250-1.

LABOUR’S mess over Brexit – and whether it supports a second referendum or not – was epitomised by Leeds MP Richard Burgon’s excruciating media interviews in the wake of the EU elections.

At one point the Shadow Justice Secretary was asked: “Is Labour a Remain or a Leave party?” His reply? “We’re a party that wants to bring the country together... at a General Election that will work well.” That’s clear. Not. Yet this key ally of Jeremy Corbyn could be one of the country’s most senior ministers if Labour comes to power...

I SEE President Donald Trump has been brushing up on his horse racing knowledge ahead of his state visit to Britain, judging by his recent tweets about the Kentucky Derby – America’s equivalent of the Derby which takes places at Epsom today. Perhaps he can ask the Queen for an update on her horse No Trumps – and her choice of name for the five-year-old who has not raced since finishing sixth at Wetherby.