Rural residents paying the price

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WHERE is the highest concentration of low-paid workers in Yorkshire? If respondents to this question were asked to name a Parliamentary seat as part of their answer, they’d probably name one of this region’s inner city constituencies.

They’d be wrong. The answer, a slightly surprising one at face value, is Sir Greg Knight’s East Yorkshire constituency, which begins in Pocklington and Market Weighton before spreading eastwards to towns like Bridlington and Driffield.

And this does not appear to be a statistical ambiguity – both Skipton and Ripon, and also William Hague’s Richmond constituency, feature in the five areas where the earnings of the greatest number of people are no longer meeting the basic costs of day-to-day life.

Of course, the Cabinet Office’s figures do not detract from the hardship in urban locations across Yorkshire. And the Government acknowledged this on Thursday when Ministers made a new commitment to tackling child poverty.

But it is yet another reminder that the picture- postcard scenes in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors mask the everyday existence of those people who are having to accept low-paid jobs because well-remunerated opportunities are in such short supply, even more so in those areas that are dependent on the agriculture and tourism industries. There are many instances of the well-qualified just upping sticks and moving to the major cities at the earliest opportunity.

Inevitably, these figures will be used by campaigners, such as the Archbishop of York, who are pressing for the scope of the living wage to be extended as this is more indicative of living costs rather than the minimum wage. Yet, while it is a convincing case, it still needs to be remembered that the latter is what the country can afford to pay without damaging future employment prospects.

That said, complacency is not an option – even though general elections are predominantly won and lost in urban seats. Public transport is an issue and it is ironic that the latest bus cuts will lead to the closure of a depot in Driffield. Superfast broadband is also critical; it needs to be rolled out as quickly as possible so more people can run their business from home.

These findings prove the rural economy needs the same level of attention being afforded to those areas that are now home to enterprise zones and other job-creation initiatives.

Time runs out for energy excuses

IF the ‘Big Six’ energy companies want to know why they’re persona non grata with so many consumers, they should read the conclusion of the latest investigation undertaken by the industry’s regulator, Ofgem. It reveals these firms, whose profits prompted Ed Miliband’s controversial price freeze, have withheld more than £400m in credit from the closed accounts of customers.

There are several reasons why this has been allowed to happen – pensioners, often the people most frightened of falling into debt, might have been in credit when they passed away or money was not returned to householders when they switched suppliers.

Either way, this does not reflect well on the morality of an industry which is now perceived to be out of touch with those families who have been on the receiving end of the relentless rise in the cost of living.

There is unlikely to be any let-up in the near future – when North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh asked why Ofgem had not been able to limit bill rises like Ofwat, Energy Minister Greg Barker said there had been “a dearth of investment” in new supplies under the last Labour government.

He added: “We are now playing catch-up. We require over £100bn to secure our supplies, and I am afraid that that money has to come from somewhere.”

That said, it does not excuse some of the behaviour of the ‘Big Six’. They should not have to wait for Ofgem to tell them to do the right thing. They should be pro-active. And, if they can’t return the £400m to those concerned, the money should go to those charities helping the needy heat their homes.

Passengers expect reliable wi-fi

IT is ironic that the Government is committed, rightly, to investing more than £40bn on high-speed rail when wi-fi coverage on some rail routes is spasmodic at best. If more business users are to be persuaded to travel by train in future, they now have the right to expect broadband access – even more so when the price of tickets continues to outstrip inflation.

As such, the £2.2m upgrade on the East Coast route from Yorkshire to London, and also Scotland, is both welcome and long overdue. The first line to offer wi-fi on a moving train 10 years ago, reliability has become a growing issue because the infrastructure could not keep pace with the volume of travellers who use their computers while on the move. It’s the same with mobile phones, calls invariably come to an abrupt halt when a train enters a tunnel.

But, given that the Department for Transport is now seeking a new franchise-holder for the route, Ministers should ensure that every rail operator across Britain provides free and reliable wi-fi as part of their own terms and conditions.