Tom Richmond: Yorkshire’s leaders need to do more than whinge

is the political and civic leadership strong enough in Leeds?
is the political and civic leadership strong enough in Leeds?
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AS engineers begin work on a £1.2bn extension to the London Underground’s Northern Line, it’s tempting to bemoan the parsimony of successive governments when it comes to the North.

Yet this scheme is of intrinsic importance to a major urban regeneration scheme, namely the former Battersea Power Station. There’s also a nod to Yorkshire with the two tunnel boring machines named after astronaut Helen Sharman and aviator Amy Johnson.

Why does this matter? It’s called local leadership.

Shortly after this investment was announced, there was a classic ‘whinge’ which explains, in part, why Yorkshire – and the rest of the North – remains the poor relation.

On the day that Theresa May’s Cabinet visited the North West to launch its Industrial Strategy, and Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy openly criticised this county’s approach towards devolution, Tom Bridges – Leeds City Council’s chief officer for economy and regeneration – bemoaned the unfairness of the latest spending allocations, and an apprent bias in favour of Manchester.

“Greater Manchester, which has a population of 2.6 million people, will benefit from nearly twice as much funding as Leeds city region, which will receive £67.5m for its population of three million people,” he told a national newspaper. “We talk about a North-South divide in public investment in transport, science and culture. Increasingly an east-west divide across [the] North.”

Yet, as Leeds political and business leaders prepare to meet on Tuesday to discuss the city-region economy, attendees would be advised to consider the issue from the Government’s perspective.

If you were a Minister, would you trust a local authority which has still to apologise for wasting £72m of public money on the ill-conceived Leeds trolleybus scheme that would have done little to help the city’s unemployment blackspots? No. I’d expect them to back those schemes that offer the most bang for the buck.

If you were a Minister, would you write a blank cheque to a region which can’t reach a consensus on devolution? No – enough money has been squandered by unaccountable public sector bureaucrats.

I could go on. Until this region’s leaders raise their game, and make funding bids that are so professional and so compelling that they can’t be turned down by the most hard-hearted of Ministers, the county’s residents, the people they purport to serve, will pay the greatest price of all. Whinging and self-pity is not the way forward.

IF you believe the militant transport unions wield too much power, think again. When Tory grandee Ken Clarke was a junior Transport Minister, he had to explain the diminution of Sunday services.

In his compelling memoir Kind Of Blue, Mr Clarke reveals that he asked about the decision-making process: “I discovered that they meant that full consultation had taken place with the unions so that the trains could be reduced in the drastic way proposed without any loss of income for any employees.”

In this regard, I despair that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling won’t intervene in the dispute between trade unions and Southern Rail over whether the driver or conductor opens the train doors. As his illustrious predecessor noted in the early 1980s, passengers matter. Unfortunately they don’t now.

I’M surprised Theresa May turns up for the Sunday morning political programmes when she would rather go to church.

Her recent appearance earlier this month on Sky News was preceded by the most excruciating preamble by the self-important Sophy Ridge that left next to no time for any questions of substance.

It was the same on the equally self-serving Andrew Marr show that began at 9am last Sunday – the PM didn’t go on air for 43 minutes, leaving barely a quarter of an hour to discuss great affairs of state. No wonder Mrs May blocked the presenter’s questions on the Trident safety row; time was on her side.

What a contrast to the hour-long inquisitions conducted by the likes of Sir Robin Day and Brian Walden, who Margaret Thatcher feared – they saw through the soundbites and stonewalling.

TALKING of political broadcasts, it’s good to see that Radio 4’s Any Questions – presented by Jonathan Dimbleby – is coming to Giggleswick School, near Settle, on March 10.

It always a surprise me that this radio debate is far more civilised, even on the day of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, than the television’s Question Time which is hosted by Mr Dimbleby’s older brother David and invariably brings out the worst in panellists, and also the audience. Why?

HOW disappointing that Communities Secretary Sajid Javid did not read last week’s column about the scale of the social care crisis on his watch.

As MPs debated the financial settlement for local councils, including heartfelt pleas for more money to fund dignified care for the elderly, the Minister sat smugly on the Commons front bench, appearing to share jokes with colleagues rather than listening to the debate. Shame on him.

THE SNP’s Westminster spokesman on Brexit, Stephen Gethins, claimed on Channel Four News that Scotland voted two to one in favour of staying in the EU. The ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ adage springs to mind. The vote was 62 to 38 per cent in support of the EU, not quite the exaggerated landslide implied by the excitable shadow minister. I hope this clears matters up.

IF the Government wants to restore some credibility to the tainted honours system, it can begin by acceding to the public’s request for the last surviving British Dambuster to be knighted. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition submitted to Downing Street this week calling for official recognition of 95-year-old George ‘Johnny’ Johnson who was part of Royal Air Force 617 Squadron which conducted a night of raids on German dams in 1943 in an effort to disable Hitler’s industrial heartland. I struggle to think of anyone – politician, pen-pusher or celebrity – more deserving. Can you?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk