Tom Richmond: Prime Minister, your priority is to get the North back on track – now

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A CHALLENGE. If David Cameron is serious about putting the North at the vanguard of Britain’s economic recovery, he will promise not to commit to Crossrail 2 – another world-class railway already planned for London before the initial scheme is completed– until this region’s transport network is finally fit for purpose.

This necessity comes after the University of Sheffield published damning new research which revealed how infrastructure investment has become even more skewed in the capital’s favour in recent years, and in spite of countless promises by politicians of all persuasions to narrow the North-South divide.

Investment in London now equates to £5,305 per person – while the figure for Yorkshire is just £851. According to the university, spending in Britain’s capital city on schemes like Crossrail 1, the flagship £14.8bn train line running from Berkshire to Essex, outstrips the total amount being spent in the rest off England.

However this revelation makes a mockery of the assurance Mr Cameron gave in May 2010 when he travelled to Shipley, less than a month after being elected as PM, to deliver the first economic speech of his premiership. The location was symbolic – he wanted to neutralise concerns the Tories were solely interested with the Home Counties. And his message was memorable: “Today our economy is heavily reliant on just a few industries and a few regions – particularly London and the South East. This really matters.

“An economy with such a narrow foundation for growth is fundamentally unstable and wasteful – because we are not making use of the talent out there in all parts of our United Kingdom. We are determined that should change.”

The mantra was the same on the eve of this year’s election when Mr Cameron, buoyed by a polished performance in the final televised debates ,, gave this assurance to workers at Leeds-based Asda: “This time next week, Ed Miliband could be propped up the SNP, funneling cash north of the border. The only way to stop it, the only way to secure the future of the North, is by voting Conservative.”

It worked. A week later Mr Cameron was on the steps of 10 Downing Street after forming the first Conservative majority government in 18 years. Again, his message could not have been clearer: “We will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom That means ensuring this recovery reaches all parts of our country, from north to south, east to west.”

Really? Since then, the Government has faced accusations of betrayal after ‘pausing’ the electrification of the Leeds to Manchester, and Sheffield to London, railway routes because of concerns about Network Rail’s management capabilities – concerns, funnily enough, which were not made clear during the election.

And then there is a concerted push by Boris Johnson, the outgoing Mayor of London, for the Government to commit to Crossrail 2 in London – a planned north-south line. What chance is there of Yorkshire getting the new railway infrastructure, and sufficient rolling stock to ease dangerous levels of overcrowding at peak-times, if so much public money is being poured into the capital which is already supported by a first class public transport network?

Just compare and contrast the 26-mile Crossrail scheme, taking just nine years to build, with the experience of Yorkshire. There’s been a decade of dither over a tram or Trolleybus for Leeds, the improvements to Hull’s Castle Street to improve access to the city’s ports remain stalled in the slow lane and uncertainty over the upgrade of the TransPennine Express and Midland Mainline. All the talk about the Northern Powerhouse is just that – talk – and there’s no guarantee the devolution deal supposedly on the table will include sufficient funding to pay for such schemes.

This is why the Prime Minister should be challenged directly to put investment in the North before a second Crossrail scheme in London. For, if he does not signal such a commitment, his promises on the Northern Powerhouse and North-South divide will begin to sound even more hollow than usual.

Over to you, Mr Cameron.

TORY arrogance at the tantalising prospect of the unelectable Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader in seven days’ time is doing the Government few favours. First Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith set a trap for Labour by setting out new measures to get the disabled and long-term sick back into employment.

He was followed by Chancellor George Osborne heading to the Faslane naval base on the Clyde to announce £500m of investment – a precursor to the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. As well as the Corbynites, the anti-nuclear Scottish Nationalists were blowing a gasket. What I don’t understand, however, is why these announcements could not wait for Parliament’s resumption so they could be debated on the floor of the House of Commons. It would have been the responsible, and democratic, way to conduct Government business.

I ADMIRE Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton’s determination to ride over fences at next year’s Cheltenham Festival – horse racing is not for the faint-hearted and she was a more than a creditable second, beaten in a photo-finish, when she made her debut on the Flat at Ripon on Monday.

My admiration would be greater still, however, if Queen Vic had chosen to swap racing saddles without the benevolence of an online bookmaker whose day-to-day involvement and control freakery gives rise to claim that this is little more than a publicity stunt rather than a great Corinthian sporting venture.

It sponsored the race in question in Ripon; its branding was all over the starting stalls and Pendleton was pictured wearing its apparel while sat in the back of a car sipping a glass of Champagne following her exploits at the North Yorkshire track. Yes, I can see why she wants a challenge to replace the adrenaline rush of track cycling – but I’d also wager she does not need the money.

THERE were three abiding images at the Challenge Cup final at Wembley – the spine-tingling rendition of Abide With Me by Lizzie Jones in memory of her husband Danny who collapsed and died while playing for Keighley Cougars earlier in the season, the record five tries scored by Leeds Rhinos wing wizard Tom Briscoe and the rows of empty seats at rugby league’s showpiece event which has traditionally been a sell-out. The latter should be of concern to the RFL. Have fans become blasé, is the cost of a trip to London in the peak holiday season too much for families from the North or was it case of the corporates enjoying their prawn sandwiches more than the rugby?

THE ungracious historian David Starkey claims Queen Elizabeth II has “not done and said anything that anybody will remember” as she prepares to overtake Queen Victoria, her great, great grandmother, as Britain’s longest serving monarch next Wednesday. Hasn’t he heard of the adage ‘actions speak louder than words’? It has never been more applicable.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk