YP Comment: Rail upgrade's fate on the line

LESSONS clearly need to be learned when it comes to rail electrification '“ it beggars belief that the cost of modernising the Great Western railway has increased by £2.1bn since 2013; will be long-overdue if and when completed and a planned order for new fleet of trains will have to be ordered so this rolling stock can operate under both diesel and electric power.

Will the Midland Main Line be electrified to Sheffield?
Will the Midland Main Line be electrified to Sheffield?

Why does this matter – and what does it mean for Yorkshire? As well as exposing the Department for Transport’s mismanagement which does not bode well for HS2 and other infrastructure projects, this region’s long-suffering commuters will have to wait longer for the South West’s rolling stock cast-offs and it raises fresh doubts about the upgrade of the Midland Main Line, a scheme which already has a stop-start history its own.

This was self-evident during a late-night Commons debate when it emerged plans to electrify the route from London to Corby are already well-advanced, despite the hiatus in the summer of 2015 when all schemes were ‘paused’, while the Government remained ominously vague about the northern section from the Midlands to Sheffield.

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Significantly, both Conservative and Labour MPs – including Nicky Morgan, the former Education Secretary – agreed that further delay and dither will be regarded as “a very bad signal of the Government’s commitment to investment in Northern infrastructure and to regenerating the Northern economy”. It’s a legitimate criticism.

Yet, after confirming the London to Corby section will be electrified by 2019, a cast-iron promise that might have to be reviewed in lieu of today’s National Audit Office report on the ‘Late Western’ fiasco, all that Paul Maynard, the Transport Minister, promised for the rest of the route was a vague commitment “to work 
with Network Rail to face 
the challenges and deliver the best possible railway
 for the people of this country”.

Though taxpayers expect public money to be spent wisely, travellers will 
react angrily – and with 
good reason – if much promised improvements in this region go to the back of the queue because the DfT was not fit for purpose under Sir Patrick McLoughlin. They’ve been taken for a ride for too long.

A lack of honour?

HOW ironic that Tory chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin should have received his knighthood, one of David Cameron’s parting gifts in his resignation honours list for his cronies and his wife Samantha’s stylist, on the day his failings at the Department for Transport were laid bare.

Once again, the validity of the honours system finds itself being undermined – Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Scarborough-born chief whip Gavin Williamson were other noteworthy recipients – and detracts from all those worthy of wider recognition because of their humbling and ground-breaking work.

The most obvious example is youth worker Jayne Senior who collected a MBE yesterday, a deserved award significantly inferior to Sir Patrick and Sir Michael’s knighthoods and the CBE given to Mr Williamson for serving as the former PM’s bag carrier.

Without this remarkable woman’s courage, it is doubtful whether the full shocking details of the Rotherham sex grooming scandal would have emerged. Now hundreds of abuse victims ignored by the authorities for too long are finally getting justice of sorts. Given this, it is surely time for honours to community champions to take precedence in future over awards to politicians and career bureaucrats 
only doing their job.

Radio’s inquisitor

THERE was a reason why the radio broadcaster Sir Jimmy Young interviewed every Prime Minister from Edward Heath to Tony Blair as well as a veritable who’s who of the great and the good – he treated his opponents with respect and put them at ease with while a deceptively disarming style of inquisition.

It’s little wonder that Margaret Thatcher was interviewed 14 times by Sir Jimmy who died on Monday. As her press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham noted: “He was courteous and not obviously out to trap – rather a somewhat deceptively assiduous person seeking the facts of the case. He was a pro with a polite touch.”

But there was another reason why his lunchtime show on Radio 2 – he referred to it as “JY Prog” – became an institution. He regarded his audience – his listeners – as friends and used his platform to ask probing questions on their behalf while becoming a great consumer champion. Today’s presenters could learn from his example.