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Tom Richmond: Will Grayling ‘man up’ and face MPs’ inquisition?

Chris Grayling.
Chris Grayling.
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A CHRIS Grayling update. Shock, horror, the words ‘Northern Powerhouse’ were attributed to the Transport Secretary when he travelled to Birmingham with Theresa May and Philip Hammond to launch the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund, a scheme to improve links between major cities and their suburbs.

He was quoted as saying: “This new fund will enable more English cities to reap these benefits, helping to deliver the opportunities and ambition of the industrial strategy across the country, as well as driving forward the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and ‘Midlands Engine’.”

Though they sound like the carefully crafted words of one of his press officers, I’ll give the Minister the benefit of the doubt – for now. However, Mr Grayling’s next test will be transport questions in the House of Commons next Thursday. Even though he can’t snub this inquisition (unlike this month’s debate on rail services in the North), he can ask his subordinates to respond to MPs.

He’d be advised to ‘man up’. This country still needs a proper explanation for his absence from the November 6 debate, his policy U-turns that have caused so much anger here and his rudeness over the failure to respond to a letter sent by the North East’s MPs in mid-July, though the Budget – in fairness – did include a promise to replace Tyne and Wear’s ageing Metro trains.

Given Mr Grayling’s enthusiasm for London’s two Crossrail schemes, I’m still trying to work out how the North’s equivalent now falls under the remit of a lowly local Transport Minister from Herefordshire whose brief appears to cover potholes and bus stops.

IF the aforementioned Transforming Cities Fund does not convince Yorkshire’s political and business leaders to settle their devolution differences, this region will find itself at the back of the funding queue ad infinitum.

Of the £1.7bn, half – £850m – will be divvied up between the six areas which now have metro-mayors in place. The remainder will require cities, like Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, York and Hull, to submit funding bids of their own and compete against the rest of the country.

Put simply, this is the direction of travel that the Government intends to follow. It will say new money is being made available – even if £1.8bn is a fraction of the cost of HS2 or London’s two Crossrail schemes – and effectively say it is up to local leaders, and not Ministers, to come up with the plans.

Though it’s important that Yorkshire gets a bespoke devolution deal, one which reflects this county’s diverse economy and proud identity, the impasse is now becoming counter-productive.

With economic growth downgraded to its lowest level for decades, any more delay and dither will be deeply hurtful to Yorkshire’s future prospects.

CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond used his Budget to note the lobbying he had received from the Tory party’s 13 MPs in Scotland. What a pity the same cannot be said for the 17 Conservative MPs from Yorkshire and the Humber.

Though David Davis is pre-occupied with Brexit, why can’t the rest use their collective weight to argue that Crossrail for the North should be afforded the same status as London’s second Crossrail line?

ANOTHER shocking revelation in the Betting The House election book by Tim Ross and Tom McTague is the extent to which Theresa May said, or did, nothing when she witnessed her then aide Fiona Hill launch a verbal tirade against the BBC politics presenter Nick Robinson in front of the Prime Minister.

Sorry – but these revelations justify my recent call for far greater scrutiny of advisers to assess their suitability and temperament before they take up key roles. After all, it’s our country.

FEWER people have more experience of the pressures facing senior Ministers than Ken Clarke who noted wryly “I like it when politics is a debating society.”

His point was this. Of all the governments he served, the best was Margaret Thatcher’s because new policies had to be debated – and agreed – by the whole Cabinet.

The former Chancellor suggests Theresa May should encourage more discussion in Cabinet because it will lead to better policy-making and decision-making, provided she punishes any Minister who blabs about the meeting to their aides or the media.

It can’t be any worse than former enemies Boris Johnson and Michael Gove ganging up – and Brexit Secretary David Davis taking umbrage.

I AM seriously unimpressed with Virgin Trains East Coast. A complaint about their online booking service crashing led to an email saying it would be investigated within ten working days.

Now an email has arrived from its so-called “customer solutions team” saying: “If your case requires a response then we aim to send you a full reply within the next 20 working days.” It does. And, rest assured, I will keep you updated.

It’s called customer relations... and the duty of publicly-subsidised operators to treat passengers with respect.

WHAT hope for the future of the environment when a Freedom of Information request reveals that Defra has purchased 2.5 million disposable cups for use at its London HQ in the past five years? What do its staff do all day? Drink coffee...

GIVEN the BBC’s glee over tax evasion/avoidance following disclosure of the Paradise Papers, can they provided an assurance that Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton – one of those ‘named and shamed’ – will be omitted from its forthcoming Sports Personality of the Year shortlist? To include him would be hypocritical in the extreme.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk