PLEASE can Theresa May or Philip Hammond provide a straight answer to a straight question next week: Where is our missing £10m?
The Tory government’s Budget in March, the last to be delivered by George Osborne, saw the launch of a new initiative to drive up school standards across the North so more young people could benefit, in time, from the opportunities being created by the Northern Powerhouse agenda.
From official briefings at the time, a price tag of £80m was attached – £20m for each of the initiative’s four years – and the reporting of these figures was never disputed as Bradford headteacher Sir Nick Weller was tasked with coming up with a list of policies.
Yet, when Mr Hammond published the next stage of the strategy during his first Autumn Statement, the more eagle-eyed observers spotted that the commitment was to “a £70m Northern Powerhouse Strategy”. And this is where it gets perplexing. The Treasury now says the £80m figure was always an accounting figure, and included money that would need to go to the devolved nations under the Barnett Formula which was set up in the 1970s in response to the threat of Scottish independence at the time. If this is so, why did the Treasury did not correct the reporting of the March announcement and even clarify the details posted on its own website?
Not only do such sleights of hand undermine trustworthiness in Ministers when Mrs May is trying to make a fresh start, but they suggest that the North is still getting a very raw funding deal. After all, it was Yorkshire LEAs which were allowed to languish at the bottom of national league tables while London’s schools were the beneficiaries of unprecedented investment. Just think how many world-class teachers, with the ability to change many young lives for the better, could be recruited if Yorkshire’s schools had an extra £10m. This is why this issue matters – and why The Yorkshire Post will not rest until the Prime Minister or Chancellor have provided a more satisfactory explanation.
CONCESSIONARY bus fares were launched by Tony Blair with the best of intentions – to provide a perk to pensioners and allow them to make greater use of public transport. What the new Labour leader did not make clear, however, was how the scheme would be funded once the initial launch money had run out after being fully exploited for party political purposes.
It was the same with community police officers – another grand gesture by Mr Blair who absolved himself of responsibility once councils realised that they would have to foot the bill for these two initiatives.
The consequence is the quite ridiculous state of affairs where councils have to provide ‘free’ bus passes from the public purse – politicians of all persuasions remain extremely reluctant to offend the ‘grey vote’ – but actually cannot afford to run sufficient buses, a problem particularly pertinent to North Yorkshire.
Given the shocking level of indebtedness confirmed by the Autumn Statement, there’s going to come a time when the viability of such giveaways has to be reappraised. Equally Tory peer Anne McIntosh, the former Thirsk and Malton MP, is right to highlight those senior citizens who would be willing to make a contribution towards their free bus travel because they have the financial means to do so. If anyone has any suggestions on how this could be implemented without creating another costly, counter-productive tier of bureaucracy, please come forward – your solution might be just the ticket.
Yorkshire pride: A happy county of curmudgeons
IT will come as no surprise that people living in Yorkshire are amongst the happiest in the country. With great centres of industry and innovation blessed surrounded by unrivalled countryside, it is only this region – and certainly not the poor imitation on the dark side of the Pennines – which can truly lay claim to be ‘God’s own county’.
Not only is this the most diverse county in Britain, but it’s also the most confident – one reason why the region excelled in a new survey. There’s no doubt, people are proud to call this county home because they’re attuned instinctively to its reputation for curmudgeonliness and plain-speaking.
It’s just slightly surprising that the Government doesn’t recognise this and invest more money in this region’s infrastructure so more people can share Yorkshire’s success story. But, then again, people here are never happier than when they’ve got something to complain about. Perverse but true.