THERESA May began the week by conceding that the North’s rail services were still not good enough. She can end it by promising to look favourably at the Budget submission being made on behalf of the whole region by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
It’s two key demands should – by now – be familiar to the Prime Minister. First, a commitment to build Northern Powerhouse Rail, a new high-speed line linking cities on both sides of the Pennines by 2032 when HS2 is due to arrive in Leeds and Manchester.
Second, a promise that Ministers will make available £100bn by 2050 to fund all those strategic road and rail projects left in abeyance because successive governments prioritised spending in London and the South East.
However the case put forward by the NPP, headed by George Osborne, the former Chancellor, is even more compelling because it is backed by more than 80 MPs and peers from all parties who are committed to narrowing the North-South divide. That names like Lord Michael Heseltine, a former Deputy Prime Minister and longstanding advocate of the North’s regeneration, have endorsed the submission gives the report added credence at a time when this region is still counting the financial and human cost of this year’s disruption on the railways.
And, by giving Transport for the North the powers and resources that it needs to fulfil its remit, there should be a significant economic return on the Government’s investment.
As former Treasury minister Lord Jim O’Neill, a vice-chairman of the NPP, says: “Affordable and quick trains connecting all key parts of the Northern Powerhouse, are vital to delivering on the goal of raising productivity both across the North, and with it, the country as a whole.”
An early Government response will, in a coincidence of timing, come today when Chris Grayling, the under-fire Transport Secretary, visits Leeds Bradford Airport.
After using his last visit to Yorkshire to accuse his many critics here of talking down the North, he can begin by accepting that this is, in fact, a genuine cross-party call to transform the North and put commuters in the driving seat. It would be a start.