Transport quango gravy train just keeps on rolling

Can we please see an end to this transport quango gravy train?
Can we please see an end to this transport quango gravy train?
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HANDS up if you have heard of the Leeds-based Urban Transport Group?

I’ll be honest. I had not come across this outfit, and nor had senior colleagues of my acquaintance, until spotting an advertisement in the public sector bible The Guardian – where else? – for a media and communications manager.

What is the UTC? It represents the strategic transport authorities for the seven largest city regions in England. “We make the case for the funding and powers our members need to improve urban transport; we provide thought leadership for the sector; and we are the foremost network for urban transport professionals in the public sector,” claims the job spec.

Really?

One of its members is the controversial West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) which is responsible for transport policy co-ordination here, and where MD Ben Still is on £150,000 a year.

For the record, the Urban Transport Group is based at the offices of WYCA where – judging by recent disclosures – the concept of ‘value for money’ has not been embraced.

Like the management top-heavy WYCA, the UTC has tiers and tiers of bureaucracy – its website lists a director (Jonathan Bray); assistant director (Rebecca Fuller); analysis researcher (Tom Ellerton); policy researcher (Clare Linton) and office manager (Saila Acton).

Each of the seven strategic transport bodies represented by the UTC – including the West Yorkshire Combined Authority – will have their own press and PR teams (and budgets). Why does it need its own communications bod in addition? To justify the organisation’s existence? I suspect so.

And then there’s the eye-wateringly generous pro rata salary of £38,443. Though this is a three-day-a-week job, the successful applicant can be assured of “a generous holiday allowance, local government pension scheme and a free travelcard to use throughout West Yorkshire”.

That’s right – free transport to and from work and, presumably, for personal use as well. What an insult to ordinary working people.

Can anyone justify the amount of public money being spent on these transport quangos, and who is signing off these roles for jobsworths? After all, the UTC’s own website says it does not “respond to complaints, suggestions or requests about public transport services provided by our members”.

Just think how much more money could be spent on bus and rail services – as well as train guards following another strike-hit week – if there was effective and streamlined leadership on transport rather than out-of-touch talking shops that over-promise, under-deliver, go round in circles and infuriate all those who want money spent more effectively.

I will be the first to shake the hand of any politician – or official – who stops this transport bandwagon in its tracks.

CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond used his party conference speech to give Tory delegates a lengthy history lesson on Labour economics.

Unfortunately, geography is not his strong point. One of his opening lines in Manchester was ‘Here in the North-East’. No wonder the Government is lacking direction.

TALKING of the Chancellor, he used his address to acknowledge the assertiveness of Scotland’s 13 Tory MPs – and how they’re pressing the case for extra funds.

Wouldn’t it be reassuring to think that Yorkshire’s 16 Conservative MPs were doing the same? How about a definitive timetable for improvements to the trans-Pennine railway after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling declined my request to provide one?

I WAS gobsmacked to see a one-time colleague (not from this parish) sitting just behind senior Ministers during Theresa May’s conference speech.

I was even more bewildered to ascertain that this said individual, not a veteran of the diplomatic charm school, is now one of the Prime Minister’s political special advisers.

Mrs May doesn’t need more politicians and journalists around her. She needs better advisors – preferably people with an understanding of what works, and what does not work, in the real world.

EVEN though Theresa May should lead the country through the Brexit negotiations – her conference speech did not deserve the comedy of errors treatment – I wouldn’t be surprised if Home Secretary Amber Rudd emerges as her successor.

Though she only won her Hastings seat by a handful of votes, the very fact that she ordered the scruffbag Boris Johnson to get to his feet and show a bit of respect for Mrs May will ensure she’s now treated as a serious politician.

Two recurring themes dominated the conferences – Brexit and the extent to which Labour has won the youth and student vote under Jeremy Corbyn.

Nevertheless, it still begs the following question: Why are young people, who are predominantly pro-European in outlook, so enamoured with Mr Corbyn when he was such an unenthusiastic supporter of the Remain campaign during last year’s referendum? If he had campaigned with a bit more vim and verve, the result might have been very different.

NOT only did Frankie Dettori win a record fifth Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe last Sunday on the brilliant Enable, but he conducted post-race interviews in French. Given the effervescent Italian struggled to speak two words of English when he first arrived here, his linguistic skills – and those of other international sportsmen – put this country to shame. Ben fatto Signore Dettori.