I have rarely been so angered as I was on hearing the government had pulled the rug on major rail plans including the electrification of the Leeds- Manchester line.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this act of betrayal, almost deceit, being perpetrated on the people of the North. So here is a brief list of the things that were wrong with the announcement of the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.
Number one, the fundamental principle of the Northern Powerhouse is connectivity, bringing closer together the great cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Hull and Newcastle. This “pause” which is a Whitehall weasel word for cancel, drives a coach and horses through the whole proposition.
Number two, for decades businesses dependent on government contracts have complained about the stop start approach of Ministers. The reason why our infrastructure is so poor is that successive governments have kept turning the investment tap on and off, making long term planning impossible.
Number three, for a year in the run up to the General Election Tory politicians were promising more and more spending on our rail connections. They must have known at least some of the truth. No wonder people are utterly cynical about politicians’ promises.
Number four, the chairman of Network Rail is made the scapegoat when the Transport Secretary should have gone too.
And finally will Crossrail 2 in London be affected by this plan? I don’t expect so. In which case the huge disparity between transport spend in the capital and the North will widen still further.
The only answer is to to devolve most of the transport budget to a Northern devolved government where we can make decisions for ourselves.
So George Osborne, don’t dare to tell us how much you support the Northern Powerhouse when you announce your budget on Wednesday because few will believe you.
In his first budget this year George Osborne had Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander reminding him he was in a Coalition. Alexander has now gone back to his old job with the Highland Tourist Board for all I know. Anyway Osborne is now free to show us what the first fully Tory budget since 1997 looks like.
Will he implement £12bn of welfare cuts? Will he continue to hammer local council spending? Will he pursue an ideological approach to create a smaller state? The Chancellor has planned a roller-coaster of deep cuts at the beginning of the parliament followed by spending increases on the back of a surplus at the end. Great politics but it has attracted criticism from business that wants a smoother path to aid planning.
The Chancellor will have to fulfil his extraordinary promise to enshrine in law no increases in VAT, Income Tax and National Insurance. Other election promises centre around a rise in the threshold for Inheritance Tax and more measures on tax avoidance.
A growing issue is the UK’s poor productivity. Measures to tackle that would be good…..and that rail investment for the north.