Tom Richmond: Yorkshire powerhouse must have county-wide foundations

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WHEN David Cameron and George Osborne talk Yorkshire’s importance to the much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse, they invariably name-check Leeds and Sheffield.

The reasoning is this. These two cities are the main drivers of economic growth locally and their future success is critical to the whole county benefitting from a new era of financial prosperity.

Even though the devolution deals afforded to the wider Leeds and Sheffield city-regions do not compare favourably with Manchester’s package of powers because of a continuing reluctance on this side of the Pennines to embrace Boris Johnson-style metro mayors, they do, at least, demonstrate the Conservative Party’s commitment to narrowing the North-South divide.

However, it is also important that Ministers do not view Yorkshire solely in terms of Leeds and Sheffield; they need to make sure their devolution policies benefit the whole county. Helpfully, both the Bishop of Leeds and John Prescott used forceful House of Lords speeches to make this very point, albeit in contrasting styles.

The first to speak was the Right Rev Nick Baines who said: “It seems to me that any concept of a Northern Powerhouse has to concentrate less on north-south links and focus more on building expandable infrastructure from west to east.

“Talk of the Northern Powerhouse usually includes reference to Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool – understandably so. But, unless cities like Bradford are connected – and you can’t currently go by one train across Bradford as there are two stations and they are not joined up – they will get left behind.

“The burgeoning of Britain’s youngest city (in terms of age profile of the population) – with its cultural, gastronomic, tourist and commercial riches – must not be wasted by planning that compromises longer-term development by shorter-term limitations.”

He’s right. And Lord Prescott was characteristically blunt when he highlighted the opportunities in East Yorkshire. He told peers: “Hull just wants to be in the game. It is an important gateway to Europe and there is an important trade barrier. Hull needs to be part of this. It is always being left aside as a fishing port. Well, it ain’t now; it is a major port crucial to the development of the Northern economy. I do not care whether you call it a powerhouse economy – the Northern Powerhouse – or the Northern Way. We need to get on with the investment.”

In many respects, Lord Prescott was ahead of his time when he tried to introduce regional assemblies more than a decade ago – a move that did not come to pass because voters did not want to pay for an additional tier of bureaucracy.

Rather than Leeds and Sheffield competing against each other for funds, and areas like Bradford, Hull and York being left on the margins, perhaps it is time for local and national leaders to find a way of embracing the Yorkshire city-region.

For, to paraphrase David Cameron, we are all in it together. Or we should be.

ON a recuperative trip across the Channel, one could not fail to be impressed by the construction of the new high-speed rail line from Paris to Le Mans and beyond.

Unobtrusive, the rate of progress – according to my friends who have emigrated from Yorkshire to the Loire Valley – is staggering in comparison to the length of time that it takes to complete civil engineering projects here.

Unlike Britain, the land in question in France is not densely populated and the terrain is predominantly flat. That is why it will take far longer to get HS2 up and running – and why the upgrading of existing commuter services cannot come quickly enough.

TALKING of France, there is much to learn from the historic city of Angers with its cathedral and castle providing the most stunning views from restaurant boats moored on the River Maine.

Yet, having been parked in the city centre for a tad over three hours, the most pleasant surprise was the cost of the car park – just two euros and 40 cents.

They obviously value tourists far more than those cities and towns in Yorkshire who look to deter motorists with increasingly penal pricing policies.

MEANWHILE I returned to Britain to see little evidence of MPs looking to reform their tired old ways in order to win back the electorate’s lost trust.

Therese Coffey, the Deputy Leader of the Commons, knocked back a request for extended sittings of Parliament on a Tuesday and Wednesday night following a perfectly reasonable request by Isle of Wight MP Andrew Turner.

He argued: “A large majority of Members are simply unable to get home in the evenings, and we did not come to London to be given lots of free time.”

Why, then, was a time limit placed on Tuesday’s debate and vote on the EU referendum? I despair.

FAIR play to Rachael Maskell, the newly-elected York MP. Not only does she intend to reject the proposed 10 per cent pay increase for politicians, but she is also refusing to take any of the additional accommodation allowances for living in London.

She believes that MPs get a very good wage and should only claim reimbursement for expenditure made on things like travel. I admire her stance, but such gestures do not excuse the fact that the current arrangements have become antiquated, and divisive, because of the failure of previous Parliaments to address the issue of pay.

I, for one, believe MPs are underpaid and would be happy to support a salary increase if it improved the calibre of people standing for election, stopped the “second jobs” culture at Westminster and that voters were afforded the right to boot out those representatives when their probity fell short of the high standards expected of them.

CAN anyone explain this health and safety contradiction when it comes to swimming? Adults at local authority-run pools cannot swim without the supervision of lifeguards. Yet, at health clubs, there is no assistance – and increasing numbers of children swimming without supervision. It is a question that becomes even more pertinent after a machine malfunction led to water temperatures at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Leeds this week hitting 33 degrees. Surely some form of warning should have been issued to those using the facility? Councils would have done so, why not private operators?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk