NOW THE Tour de France is finally rolling into Yorkshire, an unexpected sideshow is the peloton of party leaders peddling their policies for the North with the kind of verve associated with Mark Cavendish.
First to lay claim to the yellow jersey was George Osborne with his “economic powerhouse” speech. The next challenger was Ed Miliband on Tuesday, though his quest was punctured by erroneous statistics on new jobs. Now it is the turn for Nick Clegg to challenge for supremacy ahead of an anticipated announcement by David Cameron next week on infrastructure spending.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that the leader of the Lib Dems is riding in the slipstream of the Tories and Labour – the Sheffield Hallam MP has, to his credit, fought the North’s corner in 2010 and consistently highlighted the need for major cities like Leeds and Sheffield to have new powers allied to economic growth.
Unfortunately voters – the people who will decide the next election – are unlikely to be so charitable. They will simply regard these interventions, however well-intended, as electioneering and ask why the coalition has not done more to narrow the North-South divide, the promise that David Cameron made in Shipley in May 2010 in his first speech on the economy a Prime Minister.
As such, it is even more important that the main parties look to forge a consensus so Yorkshire does not, once again, become a secondary consideration after polling day. The promised commitments need to transcend the lifespan of successive governments and put the North at the heart of the growth agenda now gathering momentum.
But, rather than focusing on structures and new tiers of bureaucracy, the political leaders should not neglect the obvious; namely competitive tax rates for businesses which are still the quickest and most effective way of powering the economic wheel of fortune for the benefit of all.
Bid must not sink Hull finances
Ambition IS a priceless commodity – from both a political and economic perspective. It is the very characteristic that led to Welcome to Yorkshire winning the race to stage the 2014 Grand Départ when others said that this region had no chance, and this notion underpinned Hull’s successful bid to become the UK City of Culture in 2017.
In this context, Hull Council leader Steve Brady’s bid to bring the Royal Navy warship HMS Illustrious to the banks of the Humber, and become a new tourist attraction, should be applauded – such innovative thinking is crucial if every town and city across Yorkshire is to maximise its tourism potential and attract new waves of visitors.
This idea is also not far-fetched – the Leith waterfront in Edinburgh was transformed following the arrival of the Queen’s former royal yacht Britannia and some estimates suggest that HMS Illustrious could yield a financial dividend of £14.3m. The downside is that Coun Brady has very little to show for his efforts so far apart from a bill which has risen from £150,000 to £230,000 – an increase of £80,000 at a time when town halls across the region, Hull included, are having to make difficult decisions on the provision of key public services.
It is a legitimate concern that the council leader should not ignore. But one other point should also be made. If HMS Illustrious is to become such a magnet for visitors and corporate events, is there not a private enterprise willing to support this venture? It is not the function of local councils to fund tourism attractions willy-nilly; their primary role should be as facilitators.
Good luck to all
Ministers in Tour false start
FOR A leading politician brimming with personal ambition, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid seemed rather superstitious – and timid – when declining the chance to wish all the luck in the world to Mark Cavendish ahead of the Tour de France. Evidently, he doesn’t want to jinx the fastest man on two wheels after England’s World Cup exit and Andy Murray’s demise at Wimbledon.
But this did not prevent Mr Javid’s deputy Helen Grant, the Sports Minister, extending the “very, very, very best of luck” to the England Women’s rugby team as they head off to their World Cup in Paris. And it should not have prevented these politicians from using Commons questions to acknowledge Welcome to Yorkshire’s role in bringing the Grand Départ to Britain and to send a special “good luck” message to the army of officials, unsung heroes and volunteers whose enthusiasm is so infectious and inspiring.