Token gestures will not suffice

IF George Osborne is committed to the North prospering and becoming the driver of Britain’s recovery, he will embrace Lord Heseltine’s recommendations in next week’s spending review – and provide Yorkshire’s local enterprise partnerships with the funding that they require to power forward with their innovative ideas to create new jobs and investment.

If the Chancellor, and his Cabinet colleagues, are happy for regions like Yorkshire to continue to stagnate, and remain at the mercy of Whitehall spending settlements which continue to be skewed in favour of London and the South East, he will simply make a “token gesture” to the regions that fails to match the opportunities identified by the Heseltine doctrine.

In short, this is the dilemma facing Mr Osborne as he finalises public spending levels for 2015-16. Decisions that will inevitably form the backdrop to the next election campaign, the need for the Treasury to provide the funding to enable LEPs to fulfil their intended purpose is made even more urgent by reports that town hall budgets will be cut by 10 per cent.

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Another indication of the fragility of Britain’s economy, the need for spending restraint in the public sector must not come at the expense of major new initiatives to transform the North’s fortunes.

This is why the LEPs were created – Mr Osborne believed that they could be more effective than organisations like Yorkshire Forward. It is why they, and other regional bodies, have been handed unprecedented powers to take control of policies like transport and training.

But this potential – and the job-creation ideas put forward – will not be fulfilled unless the Chancellor provides the resources to take this process to the next stage. He should now do so. For, if schemes like the transformation of the Humber estuary are to become a reality, they will not only benefit the deprived areas of the North – but the wider economy too.

In short, it is a “win, win” situation that Mr Osborne must back before the 
hope and optimism generated by Lord Heseltine go to waste.

The crisis in care

A DESPERATE week for the hopeless Care Quality Commission ended with a glimmer of hope – the naming of the executives accused of suppressing a damning internal report into the Cumbria baby deaths and the possibility of these officials being stripped of their pensions if it is proved, beyond doubt, that they put their personal reputations before the public interest which they were supposedly upholding.

Yet questions remain as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt calls on the NHS to tackle the “silent scandal of errors” besmirching the organisation’s hard-earned reputation.

He may insist that the CQC leadership has changed, but it was still prepared to accept flawed legal advice at face value which advised that those accused of this appalling cover-up should have their anonymity protected. This reluctance to question this interpretation of the law until public and political pressure to do so became overwhelming does not inspire confidence.

Two other points need to be made. First, Mr Hunt wants retrospective disciplinary action taken, a sentiment which is universally shared. Yet how does he expect to achieve this when it has proved so difficult in the past to hold public servants to account once they have moved on to new roles?

Second, Mr Hunt also said that a further £40m is being invested in the beleaguered commission to ensure that its inspections are carried out by experts and result in Ofsted-style reports which have helped to identify failing schools.

However, the Health Secretary indicated that it will be many months before this process can begin. Yet time is not on his side because of this unanswered question: how many more patients will needlessly die before he enacts the recommendations made by the Francis inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire scandal?

Pedal power

HOW times change. Twelve months ago, the most important word in sport was “legacy” as political leaders looked to exploit the feelgood factor generated by the Olympics and Paralympics.

From a sporting perspective, both were unprecedented successes as Team GB ruled the world. From a legacy point of view, however, the result is mixed – participation levels in some sports have actually dropped since the 2012 Games.

It is a salutary warning as Yorkshire prepares to host the Tour de France. A one-off event like the Olympics, it provides an unrivalled opportunity to inspire a new generation of people of all ages to get on their bikes. As such, the “legacy” word is even more important as sports policy evolves.

In the political equivalent of the peloton chasing down the yellow jersey, it is welcome that Yorkshire’s councils have made a racing start to their quest to solve this “legacy” challenge.

They have great ideas, like a local version of the “Boris Bikes” scheme which has boosted cycling in the capital thanks to the Mayor of London. The challenge is making them work in practice, and ensuring that such plans are not left floundering on the start line.