Tom Richmond: Minister’s backtracking on rail link is deplorable

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LET me be generous to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and give him the benefit of the doubt on the future of the Leeds to Manchester railway.

He is right when he says electrification may not be totally practical on this Victorian transport link – what passengers want is reliability and journey times of no more than 30 minutes.

What I deplore, however, is the Minister’s blatant backtracking and continuing refusal to provide a definitive timetable for the upgrade of a line that is pivotal to the future success of the North’s economy.

It’s nearly three months since his election visit to Wakefield when he said: “We made promises and we endeavour to keep our promises.”

Yet, despite this columnist repeatedly challenging Mr Grayling to provide some clarity, there’s been silence until his unenthusiastic comments about the merit trans-Pennine link.

Contrast this with his enthusiastic support for a second Crossrail scheme in London that will run from Hertfordshire to Surrey where the Transport Secretary just happens to be a MP.

In the capital, Crossrail is becoming a reality. In the North, travellers are simply cross that Tory promises in the 2015 and 2017 elections to transform the region’s rail links are proving to be totally disingenuous.

Fair play, therefore, to Greater Manchester’s metro-mayor Andy Burnham for stepping up to the plate this week by highlighting this disparity and reiterating The Yorkshire Post’s call on May 9 for a definitive plan and timetable.

It’s just a shame that there’s not a comparable political figure on this side of the Pennines making the same case – it would help – but Yorkshire devolution is just as tortuous as the slow train in rush hour.

Be rest assured that this columnist, for one, will continue to make the case and highlight Mr Grayling’s obfuscation until the Transport Secretary comes to his senses.

After all, improving connectivity between the North’s major cities is just as important as new transport links in the capital. They both need to be treated as national priorities.

TALKING of Chris Grayling, you will recall that he was the ‘front man’ for Theresa May’s leadership campaign just over a year ago.

I wonder if he would have done so if he’d known that he was effectively handing the keys of the country to Mrs May’s now discredited policy aides Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.

Mrs May’s former communications director Katie Perrior reveals the PM’s bemusement at the bad press she was receiving for ditching George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse project.

“The room fell silent,” said Ms Perrior. “Only 48 hours before had we been told by Fiona Hill to strip out any references to the Northern Powerhouse in the PM’s speeches or pieces.”

Two points. First, if Mrs May is too weak to stand up to her unelected aides, what chance will she have with the EU?

Second, all future leadership contenders should disclose – in advance – the names of their intended Downing Street support staff so the individuals concerned can be subjected to proper scrutiny about their suitability.

Chiefs of staff would not be appointed in the private sector without due diligence taking place. Why should 10 Downing Street be exempt from this when we’re talking about the future governance of the country?

A SALUTARY warning to Theresa May from Tory grandee Michael Heseltine. Not only does he advise the PM to accelerate domstic policy reforms while she can, but that she needs to guard against Labour shifting its position on Brexit if public opinion turns against a disorderly exit from the EU. Prescient advice.

THE BBC high pay/gender equality scandal is even worse because the newly-disclosed salaries of so-called ‘stars’ don’t include any earnings accrued from ‘moonlighting’ for rival broadcasters.

By way of example, Gary Lineker – specialist subject Walkers Crisps – regularly presents Champions League football for BT Sport when not earning upwards of £1.75m hosting Match of the Day.

At the other end of the pay scale, Clare Balding – specialist subject the geegees – is now fronting Channel Four’s coverage of women’s football to top up her BBC salary that is in the £150,000-£199,000 bracket.

If the BBC was getting genuine value for money from its supposed ‘talent’, they wouldn’t have time to work for others. If they now refuse to work full-time for the Beeb, let them go – they’re not worth it.

AS a keen swimmer, I take my hat off to Adam Peaty after he retained his 100m breaststroke world title in spectacular style.

The Olympic champion – Britain’s most under-appreciated sporting superstar – has now recorded the 10 fastest times in history for the event, and used his latest victory to implore youngsters to give it a go.

Like Yorkshire’s very own Brownlee brothers who are creating a legacy of their own with the triathlon, the iron man of the pool is intent on doing the same. A down-to-earth lad from the Midlands, he, too, is staying true to his roots. I hope he gets the recognition he deserves and can use his influence to prevent the closure of council-run pools. They are priceless facilities that offer lifelong lessons in health, wellbeing – and safety.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk