UNLIKE the issue of energy prices, which dominated yesterday’s exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron cannot blame fluctuations in the international markets for the relentless rise in rail fares in Britain that has forced the Government to cap next year’s planned increases.
This is a legacy of successive governments sanctioning above-inflation price rises without paying sufficient regard to the impact of this approach on household finances – or the need for a clearer correlation between ticket prices and the quality of services offered by those privatised rail firms that still receive very generous subsidies.
Yet Ministers have repeatedly stressed the need to raise fares in order to help fund new rush-hour trains on commuter lines across Yorkshire as well as overdue improvements to the TransPennine Express as part of the introduction of new services linking key Northern cities. This short-term fix to appease cost of living concerns could have long-term implications for such much-needed investment.
For this reason, the Government’s intervention must be matched by reforms to the ticketing arrangements that put transparency in the driving seat.
It is certainly true that train travellers across Yorkshire are more reluctant than passengers in other regions to take advantage of discounted prices on East Coast’s services if they book in advance.
Those who turn up at the station to pay on the day will always face a financial premium.
That said, the Government needs to realise that the introduction of new rolling stock is not keeping pace with demand, and tackling overcrowding should be a priority for Robert Goodwill, the Scarborough and Whitby MP who joined the Department for Transport ministerial team this week.
His appointment was triggered by Mr Cameron’s desire to make a more persuasive argument for HS2, but the Government will only further alienate high-speed rail sceptics unless it can show that improvements to existing services – and the introduction of transparent ticketing – are on track.
It has much to prove before this assurance can be given. Though welcome, a one-year price cap has simply bought Ministers some time.
The test of time
THE value of English Heritage’s annual register of historic buildings at risk can be measured by those architectural gems that have been restored following the intervention of campaigners.
Timeless treasures like Haworth, the home village of the Brontë sisters, have been removed from the list after local organisations worked together to preserve its traditional features, including the cobbles along the main street, that attract visitors from around the world.
It is the same with the restored conservatory at Wentworth Castle in Barnsley – where the craftsmanship on show has seen the repairs shortlisted for an award backed by the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The challenge now is to make sure that the same level of urgency, and expertise, is brought to the 42 historic sites across Yorkshire that have been added to the “at risk” list of shame, including Green Lane Works in Sheffield and the former Temple Mill textile factory in Leeds.
This will not be easy – English Heritage is an organisation that relies to a large degree on the benevolence of financial backers and donors. It has also seen its budget cut by the Government as it prepares for full charitable status in 2015 and a need to become self-sufficient.
But one final point should be made: its work would be diminished without the enduring goodwill of those craftspeople whose expertise is vital to ensuring that Yorkshire’s historic buildings and landmarks stand the test of time so they can remind future generations about this great county’s rich and varied past.
A minor miracle
FLYING instructor Roy Murray must be a hard man to please. After helping John Wildey safely land a small aircraft at Humberside Airport when the pilot collapsed at the controls while in mid-air, he observed wryly: “He made quite a good landing actually.”
Remarkable as this story is, it is tinged with sadness in the wake of the pilot’s subsequent death in hospital and our thoughts are with his family. Yet they will perhaps find some comfort in the fact that further tragedy was prevented when their loved one’s nerveless passenger – who said he “hadn’t a clue” how to conduct an emergency landing – was able to control the light aircraft safely thanks to Mr Murray and others who provided word-perfect instructions from the ground.
An illustration of how adversity can bring the best out of people, their calmness and clarity of thought – they persuaded Mr Wildey to complete several circuits of the airport before landing – is testament to their professionalism. However, as the full story began to emerge, people began to wonder whether they could land a plane in such circumstances. And when they contemplated this, with a mixture of bravado and trepidation, it put in perspective the sheer scale of the heroism that was shown.