Ah-ooooo vampire of London, ah-oooooo…
What better time to discuss the Northern PowerHouse project now that parliament has entered summer recess and nothing can be done except to fume and fulminate? So what is the NP? The government says “Building a Northern Powerhouse is about boosting the local economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture, as well as devolving significant powers and budgets to directly elected mayors to ensure decisions in the North are made by the North. We are backing business growth right across the North, and giving our great cities the power and resources they need to reach their huge untapped potential”. The NP had a champion, allegedly, in the former Chancellor and well-known Northerner George Osborne but he’s gone to edit a London paper that mainly criticises the government for decisions he took. He couldn’t even help safeguard jobs in his own constituency let alone help create new ones.
The promises made to fund the NP were £13 billion on transport, £3.4 billion on growth deals, whatever they’re supposed to be, and £70 million on NP schools strategy, again whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. The general idea is a good one to link the major Northern cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. A secondary consideration was also given, condescendingly, to Swansea and Cardiff but it seems no-one is sure whether they count as Northern or not, or indeed count at all. Anyway opportunity certainly knocks, and I mean that most sincerely folks, because “We’ve agreed historic Northern Powerhouse devolution deals, giving the North access to billions of pounds of new funding. In 2017 some Northern regions will gain powerful new voices in national life through directly elected mayors”. Oh goody, more talking shops to stand up to London, I wonder how that will work out?
We have had one or two announcements recently that should help answer that, the first being about Wales whom have been officially designated as “Not in London with some natives speaking a dead language whilst the rest have a funny accent” how are things going for them? Everything is going swimmingly according to Network Rail “Electrification of the railway means quicker and more reliable journeys for passengers and better connectivity for businesses. Electric trains are faster, quieter, longer and greener than current diesel trains. They are also cheaper to run because of lower fuel and maintenance costs.The South Wales Mainline runs from the Severn Tunnel in Monmouthshire, through Newport, Cardiff, Bridgend, Port Talbot, Neath and Swansea. Wales has disproportionately suffered from deindustrialisation and such investment is decades overdue, a strong infrastructure is the surest way to create jobs where they are needed and allow Wales to compete. What’s the reality?
Wales Online reports “Great Western electrification is ‘a stark example of how not to run a major project”. This projection is supposed to link Wales to London and shave 20 minutes off the journey time but “It is disappointing that the UK Government is rolling back on its plans to electrify parts of the Great Western route, with no clear proposals or timetable as to how the work will progress from here”. Welsh Government Economy and infrastructure Secretary Ken Skates continued ““We are pressing the UK Government for confirmation that electrification to Swansea will be delivered immediately after electrification to Cardiff is completed, as promised, in 2018″. This very optimistic man was speaking in March of this year so how are those promises progressing? The electrification of the railway line between Cardiff and Swansea has been scrapped, the UK Government has announced, as reported by ITV. Cheer up Wales, I believe your compatriot won something called Love Island.
As discussed above the Northern PowerHouse has newly beefed up democratic powers surely we’ll fare better than Wales? Friday from the BBC “The railway route between Liverpool and Newcastle may not be fully electrified despite a promise by the previous government”. To give you an idea how important that route is it is the only train that directly connects Liverpool and Manchester, one train per hour. It also calls through Leeds and York but, despite the journey time, don’t even dream of wi-fi facilities. Liverpool to Newcastle takes around 3 and a half hours and costs an eyewatering £73 one way. My personal record to travel from Liverpool to the exotic climes of Bolton is also 3 and a half hours, the transport system is chaos and nobody can be sure of getting anywhere except through the grace of God, why is this?
The rightly outraged Manchester Evening News gives us a clue. “London already gets an extraordinary £2,595 per person in publicly funded transport investment, according to analysis by data researchers Statista. Here in the north-west the figure is £99”. It isn’t just electrification that’s delayed either we also learn “Incredibly transport secretary Chris Grayling let slip that not only might it not happen, but that Manchester Piccadilly’s platform extension may not either”. So let’s play along with Tory thinking that these are times of austerity and “there’s no money left”. Yet today we learn the decision to back Crossrail 2, the Department for Transport (DfT) said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had agreed there was “no doubt London needs new infrastructure to support its growth and ensure it continues as the UK’s economic powerhouse”. That’ll be another £30 billion for London at 2014 prices so double that at least by the time it’s finished.
Let me be clear, nobody is complaining about Crossrail 2 I’m sure London does need that investment but not at our expense. We also have HS2 in the pipeline and where will work start and all the immediate benefits accrue? Oh, that’ll be London again. It is at this point I would call for the newly created and elected mayors to get together and demand a rethink and more positive action for the Northern PowerHouse but what’s the point? “Two years ago ministers promised a fully electrified Manchester to Leeds rail line would be ‘at the heart’ of the Northern Powerhouse. After pausing it for a ‘review’, they swiftly un-paused it in the face of public outrage and a campaign by the Manchester Evening News and other northern titles”.
And all those promises are about to be broken again and there’s nothing we can do. The government could of course repromise the promises but all the evidence says they’ll just break them again. Spare me the lectures about how we all benefit from London they’re nothing but vampires who, instead of drinking blood, extract urine on an industrial scale. The Northern PowerHouse is nothing but a con. Ironic how we get fracking investment that we don’t want but not infrastructure we need. I wonder in which city beginning with L all the loot from fracking will be banked in?