The YP comment (August 19): Jam tomorrow on the railways

Yorkshire’s rail passengers are entitled to feel more than a little bewildered.

On the one hand they hear that northern councils have a £15bn plan – welcomed by Chancellor George Osborne – to overhaul transport in the North with a major focus on rail improvements.

The Chancellor himself has spoken of his enthusiasm for a new transpennine high speed rail link, while momentum is growing behind moves to build HS2 from the North and South simultaneously.

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Work has already begun on a package of improvements to the region’s rail network – the so-called ‘northern hub’ – while the electrification of the line between Selby and Hull is also on the horizon.

Yet this promise of a brighter tomorrow contrasts sharply with the realities of rail travel today. Inflation figures due out today will go into a formula that – unless Ministers intervene – will dictate that regulated fares rise by more than three per cent in January after years of wages failing to keep up with prices.

This follows last week’s confirmation that Northern Rail will shortly introduce new evening peak-time fares.

And the Government has made clear through its consultation on the future of the northern and transpennine rail franchises that any improvements in the short term will need to be paid for by savings elsewhere.

When it comes to the lot of Yorkshire rail users, it is rather a case of jam tomorrow but never jam today.

Come January, passengers will be asked to pay a lot more to travel on dated, overcrowded, frequently late and often dirty trains or drive to work and sit in the queues that clog this region’s roads.

A move by Mr Osborne to moderate or even waive January’s fare rise would offer a little jam today to help sweeten what is presently a very bitter pill.

Politics is local Ukip boasts volunteer army

It is a truism that political parties invariably forget at the start of each election cycle and sometimes don’t remember until it is too late – the General Election consists of 650 different electoral races.

While advertising and social media can convey a party’s key messages and national polling offer an insight into voting trends and speeches, there remains a crucial role for constituency activists in mobilising voters at local level.

With less than nine months to go until polling day, Labour is confronting that reality with a new campaign that is being presented as an effort to involve people in politics, but which in reality is an election volunteer recruitment drive.

It has been suggested that David Cameron’s position on issues such as gay marriage and Europe has alienated his party’s grassroots and that while Labour will struggle to compete financially with the Conservatives in the General Election campaign it can mitigate the impact with boots on the ground.

However, many Tory activists will put their misgivings to one side when faced with the prospect of an Ed Miliband premiership. The Newark by-election showed that the Conservatives can still mobilise their own army of volunteers, though whether that kind of effort can be sustained across dozens of seats simultaneously has yet to be tested.

What both parties fear most, however, is having to spend money and resources defending previously safe seats against Ukip and its highly motivated volunteers and financial backers.

Too little, too late? Morrisons left playing catch-up

THIS year will surely go down as an annus horribilis for Yorkshire retailer Morrisons – one bedevilled by plunging sales and uncertainty over the future of under pressure chief executive Dalton Philips.

The Bradford-based retailer has responded by extending opening hours at nearly half of its 490 stores, with Mr Philips saying the firm is changing to meet the demands of “modern family life, flexible working hours and busy schedules”.

While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, the reality is that Morrisons is simply catching up with its rivals, who have offered extended opening hours for years. Not only that, but they also have a head start in terms of online shopping, an area which has seen double-digit growth.

For Morrisons it is increasingly a case of stick or twist. Does it continue

to slug it out with the big boys in the shape of Sainsbury’s and Tesco, or reposition itself in the market to fend off the challenge of cut price rivals such as Aldi and Lidl?

At the moment it is in danger of falling between two stools – and suffering as a consequence.