Tom Richmond: I agree with Tim's plan to bring '˜Failing Grayling' to account

'I AGREE with Nick' was the familiar refrain during the 2010 election when David Cameron and Gordon Brown sidled up to Nick Clegg, the then Lib Dem leader, in the TV debate.

Should it be easier for failing rail operators to be stripped of their franchise?

This week it’s a case of “I agree with Tim” and the attempt by Tim Farron, Mr Clegg’s successor, to change the law to make clear that the Transport Secretary is responsible for the railway.

Now a backbench MP, Mr Farron’s rural Lake District constituency was amongst those worst-hit by the summer of timetable chaos on the region’s railways and the reputational damage to tourism as the North’s economy took an estimated £38m hit.

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Tim Farron.

However, after the Office of Rail and Road’s inquiry revealed a complete lack of accountability, his Bill – presented to the House of Commons this week – would mean Chris Grayling could no longer shy away from the consequences of his department’s decisions.

It speaks volumes that this needs clarification. But it would, says Mr Farron, also make it significantly easier for the Government to strip failing rail operators – take note Northern and TransPennine Express – of their franchises.

Knowing how slow Parliament operates at the best of times – and that’s slower than many trains here – I’m guessing there’s little chance of Mr Farron’s motion making any progress unless there’s a cross-party consensus.

Yet there should be. For, given how Mr Grayling’s abdication of responsibility has failed the Government, the country and commuters, every MP should be supporting a simple measure that establishes the Transport Secretary’s role in law and ensures rail passengers receive a level of service that is expected of schools, the NHS and so on.

That’s why I agree with Tim...

THERE is a consensus growing that issues likes automation will have a far greater impact on the economy than Brexit.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said as much at the Tory conference. The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has been advancing the skills agenda. And the Centre for Cities think-tank warned this week that this region’s cities lag behind London and the South East when it comes to school students accruing relevant qualifications.

It’s all the more perplexing, therefore, that Ministers from the Department for Education spend more time in schools in London, and the Home Counties, than the North, according to statistics obtained by Barnsley MP Stephanie Peacock, a former teacher.

Revealing that education ministers are 10 times more likely to visit schools in London and the South East than the North, it shows – once again – that the Government is still hopelessly out of touch when it comes to this region.

I can only assume that the Minister is too embarrassed to admit that London did, in fact, receive favourable funding when its education standards were unacceptable – and that he’s not prepared to do likewise for the North.

It’s a false economy. The sooner Ministers take off their Brexit blinkers and view skills and training as an investment in the nation’s future, the sooner the North-South economic divide can be narrowed – for the benefit of all.

TALKING of the North-South divide, I need to go back to school after last week’s criticism about the cost of recruiting three HS2 non-executive directors. Costing £950 a day, and working just two days a month, their annual bill will come to a combined £68,400. Yet there should still be an explanation as to why HS2 spurs to Leeds and Manchester should take precedence over a new high-speed line across the Pennines.

FORMER MP Austin Mitchell is scathing of most prime ministers and party leaders in his thoroughly readable and, at times, provocative memoir Confessions of a Political Maverick. He does spare Harold Wilson – and not because he was a Yorkshireman. It’s because he “made party unity central to his leadership”.

Yet there’s a soft spot for one Margaret Thatcher. “She even read my letters telling her how to run the country and wrote back graciously explaining to me how wrong I was,” writes the former Grimsby MP. “No other Prime Minister ever did that.”

Perhaps Theresa May, whose office has a dismal reputation when it comes to correspondence, should try it. It might force the PM to think through her arguments so she’s better able to articulate them. It might work. It might not. If only Mrs T had listened to her critics when it came to the poll tax...

NORTHERN Ireland’s Democratic Unionists have 10 MPs. They and Sinn Fein have been refusing to work together at Stormont since power-sharing collapsed over a scandal involving DUP leader Arlene Foster and green energy policy. Yet, even though Ms Foster is not a MP, she can hold the UK to ransom over Brexit and now the Budget. She appears willing to bring down the Government. It can’t be right that she effectively has more power than Theresa May, can it?

I PARTICULARLY like the story in Kevin Keegan’s memoir about his childhood in Doncaster – and how his younger brother Mike’s pushchair was invariably used as a goalpost. It was fine until he was “flushed straight in the face with a stray shot”.

Those were the days when youngsters could walk a mile and a half to the local park in safety. Yet, as Keegan says, he wouldn’t have become such a great footballer if it wasn’t for his humble upbringing. A must read.

I CAN’T decide who is becoming the more tedious – Boris Johnson or Jose Mourinho? Discuss.