Unity holds key to Tour launch

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HOW churlish of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and other Whitehall officials to try and market next year’s opening stages of the Tour de France as the “England” Grand Départ. Cycling’s elite riders, including this year’s winner Chris Froome and record-breaking sprinter Mark Cavendish, would not be coming to these shores without the energy, enthusiasm and endeavour of Welcome to Yorkshire and its indefatigable chief executive, Gary Verity.

This plot, exposed in the minutes of private meetings between the DCMS and UK Sport, who organise major sporting events, smacks of sour grapes. Their own Grand Départ bid – Edinburgh would have been the host city before cyclists headed off on the road to Wales – was rejected in favour of Yorkshire’s rival bid which revolved around the iconic imagery that will be beamed to a global TV audience.

Despite the views of London-based politicians and sports officials, the opening days of the 2014 Tour will be synonymous with Yorkshire. Leeds’s hosting of the race launch will see a week of ceremonial events, followed by two days of world-class cycling in the county before the peloton heads off for the third stage from Cambridge into London. The race will then resume in France.

UK Sport and the DCMS were perfectly within their rights to question the ability of Welcome to Yorkshire to honour its promise to stage “the grandest of grand départs” – this is new territory for tourism leaders as they look to use sport as a vehicle to attract record number of visitors to the white rose county.

Yet it appears that much of this scrutiny focused on attempting to undermine Mr Verity and his team, rather than exploring how the Tour can inspire the whole country after Britain’s emergence as the world’s pre-eminent cycling nation.

This is wrong. This event will only be an unrivalled success if each and every one of the main organising bodies – Welcome to Yorkshire, UK Sport, the DCMS, the Tour de France’s owners ASO, local authorities and the police – work in unison. Thankfully, it appears that this process is now back on track. After all, personal pointscoring does not interest the millions of cycling devotees who will flock to Yorkshire – they just want to see a well-organised race that lives long in the memory for the very best of sporting reasons.

Home truths over council budgets

LIKE it or not, the economy is only now showing signs of recovery because the coalition has been relentless in its pursuit of efficiency savings – and town halls across Yorkshire have not been immune from this process.

They have all been challenged to provide better services, particularly with regard to care of the elderly, while making significant savings elsewhere.

It has not been easy and the next budget round will provide an even greater challenge as the Government demands greater savings while also limiting the scope for increases in council tax bills to the absolute minimum.

It is a task made even harder by George Osborne’s latest spending review in which Yorkshire councils will have to find savings of £450m – some £150m more than envisaged by the Chancellor.

Understandably, Keith Wakefield – the Labour leader of Leeds Council – is not happy. He has accused Ministers of “misleading the public” before pointing out that these false assumptions make it even harder for councils to plan for the future.

Yet, while many will sympathise with Coun Wakefield, he does need to remember that Labour’s national leadership now acknowledge the importance of spending restraint and financial discipline – two factors which were clearly absent when Leeds Council sanctioned the excessive travel and hotel expenses accrued by senior executives at marketing agency Leeds and Partners.

Rather than making alarmist predictions about “the end of many public services”, Coun Wakefield should accept the fact that town halls did spend beyond their means and recent evidence suggests Leeds Council still has scope for efficiencies that do not compromise its obligations to residents.

Bevin Boys deserve recognition

FOR decades, the contribution to the war effort made by the Bevin Boys has been criminally undervalued.

While Britain’s Armed Forces veterans have been rightly lauded for their part in the defeat of the Axis powers, those who stayed behind to work in the nation’s mines have been forgotten – or worse, accused of cowardice.

Nearly 50,000 men were conscripted to fill the gap left by miners away at war, suffering countless deaths and injuries as part of dangerous and exhausting work that was essential not only in terms of helping Britain to win the war, but also rebuilding the country afterwards.

It is therefore only right that their importance is being recognised through schemes like the one launched by the National Coal Mining Museum.

The museum is looking for stories of men conscripted to Yorkshire’s mines during the Second World War – and it is to be hoped that those with an insight will contribute. It is high time that these often misunderstood war heroes received the credit, and gratitude, they deserve.