Region’s new age of the train

IF the Government is to have the best possible chance of retaining the fragile consensus on HS2, it needs to demonstrate that Britain’s high-speed rail revolution will not come at the expense of much-needed improvements to local services.

It would be ironic if a long-term consequence of HS2 was that it was quicker to travel between Yorkshire and London than to catch a train between two cities in this region because Ministers chose not to upgrade the existing infrastructure.

As such, the Department for Transport’s decision to devolve at least partial responsibility for the commissioning of a new era of rail services for Yorkshire and the North is both overdue and welcome.

Even though London-based civil servants at the DfT pride themselves on their expertise and knowledge, they do not always know best. Their commissioning has been fundamentally flawed, most notably with the East Coast route, and they do not have sufficient knowledge of the intricacies of provincial commuter services.

Take this region. It still defies belief that the current Northern Rail franchise did not include commitments to improve stations, build longer platforms and provide more trains when overcrowding levels on some routes, like the Wharfedale and Airedale lines, are among the worst in the country.

That northern councils and authorities should now have a say over their destiny, even with the DfT still retaining some influence, can only bode well for the future as part of a longer-term strategy to improve services locally.

It means councillors, accountable at the ballot box, can shape services and ensure far greater focus is brought to the challenges facing this region, such as the need to tackle bottlenecks at Leeds in peak times which can have knock-on consequences for services across the county.

Contrast the state of local rail services with transport links in the capital where London Underground is now planning to run Tube trains round-the-clock at the weekend.

Yet Yorkshire will only have a chance of introducing the frequency of services that are taken for granted if London if the DfT lets go of its grip on the purse strings – the ultimate test of this policy.

No place in society: Bid to tackle honour-based violence

DAVID Cameron’s move earlier this year to make forced marriage a criminal offence was a significant step forward in terms of tackling the issue.

While some cultural traditions deserve to be cherished and passed down from one generation to the next, such abuse of an individual’s rights can have no place in 21st century Britain.

The same applies to honour-based violence – attacks committed when it is deemed that someone has brought shame to their family or community by doing something that is not in keeping with their traditional beliefs.

All too often, however, the chief difficulty for the authorities when it comes to bringing the perpetrators to justice lies in uncovering such incidents, for the simple reason that the vast majority of cases are believed to go unreported.

With that in mind, the coming together in Leeds yesterday of the Crown Prosecution Service and various agencies including the police and victims’ charities is to be welcomed as part of a wider, long overdue attempt to place such crimes under greater scrutiny.

The key to combating offences of this kind is ensuring that victims feel able to report them when they occur and are confident that, once they have done so, they will receive the support they need.

On that front, there is some encouragement in the fact that Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Karma Nirvana, a charity which helps young women and men who are victims of honour-based violence, says the organisation is currently receiving 600 calls a month – more than it has ever fielded before.

While this figure underlines the need for urgency in getting to grips with this issue, it also offers hope that perhaps more victims are now inclined to come forward.

Ahead of his time: Prince Charles leads by example

AS is so often the case, the Prince of Wales is a man ahead of his time with his latest call to arms to encourage more young people into social action by becoming volunteers.

His Prince’s Trust continues to bring out the best in young people. Most are not the teenage tearaways or layabouts, as portrayed by some, but fine individuals with much to offer if their energy can be harnessed.

And, given the public’s new-found respect for Prince Charles, the heir to the throne’s endorsement of the Step Up To Campaign initiative is likely to supplant the backing of Britain’s political leaders who are not held in such high esteem.

As well as inspiring a new generation of volunteers, the Prince makes a valid point when he says that employers will be more inclined to hire new recruits who have some concept of social responsibility. As such, it can only bode well for the future if everyone, young and old alike, appreciates the benefits of volunteering – and the difference that public service can make. Without people giving up their time, Britain would be a much poorer place.