EVEN though George Osborne stressed this week how investment in this region has increased by 100 per cent since he launched the Northern Powerhouse two years ago, it would be imprudent of the Chancellor to ignore the public’s scepticism and frustration.
The rhetoric of Mr Osborne, and David Cameron for that matter, does not always match the reality, not least with last summer’s decision to ‘pause’ the electrification of two of the region’s railways which featured so prominently in the Tory election campaign and then the equally short-sighted decision to shut the Department of Business regional office in Sheffield and relocate 250 jobs to London.
If Yorkshire, and the rest of the region, is to become an economic powerhouse, a 21st century transport infrastructure needs to be matched by world-class education in the county’s schools. These are the number one priorities and Ministers do need to accept their share of criticism for not rebalancing the economy – the commitment Mr Cameron made when he visited Shipley at the end of May 2010 to deliver the first economic speech of his premiership.
Yet this does not mean that Yorkshire’s post-referendum political leaders are absolved of responsibility. Quite the opposite. It is embarrassing that this is the one region where Whitehall has been unable to strike a devolution deal with local leaders. The longer this impasse remains, the greater the advantage that Greater Manchester and other rival regions will enjoy at this county’s expense.
Equally, this region has to demonstrate that it is capable of delivering major infrastructure projects, and other policy reforms, if it is given the freedom and finances by Whitehall. Though there are schemes which have been delivered successfully, the squandering of £72m of taxpayers’ money on the flawed trolleybus scheme in Leeds, not least because of poor planning and negligible oversight, shows the importance of putting the right leadership and management structures in place so scarce public funds do not go to waste like this.
Given this, the onus is now on local leaders to reach a consensus on devolution – this is still preferable to a settlement determined by Whitehall – and then present a case to the Government which is so compelling that it finds favour with the most London-centric of Ministers and officials. This is the challenge.
PM on the spot: Cameron waffles over immigration
DAVID Cameron certainly received an unwelcome wake-up call at his EU inquisition when one indignant audience member accused him of ‘waffling’. The Tory leader has form for dodging questions, not least at PMQs, and student Soraya Bouazzaou was right to put him on the spot.
Even though many thought that Ms Bouazzaou overstepped the mark – some accused the 22-year-old of being ‘rude’ – it is only right that the Government’s record on immigration is scrutinised following the Cameron government’s failure to honour a succession of promises.
This exchange shows how the Remain camp has its work cut out to win the trust of sufficient voters, not least after the Home Affairs Select Committee exposed the Government’s failure to deport foreign criminals when they are released from prison.
It found the top three countries that the criminals hailed from were all within the EU, with Polish villains accounting for nearly one in 10 foreign offenders, some 983, while 764 were from Ireland and 635 from Romania. If the Government can’t work with the EU and take the offenders straight from prison to the airport on the day of their release, it’s little wonder that the Remain side is losing the immigration argument and is resorting to waffle to mask criminal failings.
In broad terms...Why shorter summer is welcome
SHOULD school summer school holidays be cut to five weeks? Some will say Barnsley Council’s decision is an enlightened one because a prolonged absence from class disrupts the learning of pupils while others will argue that it will make it even harder for parents to plan childcare if they have youngsters at schools run by the LEA and also academies which remain free to make their own arrangements.
Either way, the LEA’s decision to become the first in England to tinker with term dates should be applauded. Barnsley’s exam results have been unacceptably low for too long and the status quo, not an option if more students are to make the grade and enjoy successful careers. If this means more pupils celebrating improved results with high fives, it will have been a worthwhile exercise in broad terms.