Transport investment in our region is crucial
It seems like not a week goes by without a new HS2 scandal. In the last few weeks we have learnt much, none of it good news.
HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston is paid a huge salary of more than £620,000, while we already know that a quarter of officials working on HS2 earn in excess of £100,000.
Two HS2 whistle-blowers have come out to say there should be a public inquiry into the spiralling cost of HS2, and that the taxpayer has been deceived. This comes after the National Audit Office (NAO), which scrutinises public spending, found that due to mismanagement by the Conservative government and HS2 bosses, the project is years behind schedule and billions over budget.
The NAO found that the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd underestimated the complexity of the programme, and Phase One, which is between London and Birmingham, is now estimated to cost between £31 billion and £40 billion, which is billions more than original forecasts.
We are now waiting to find out whether the government will scrap HS2. We have been told a decision is near, but we do not know when it will be made.
From the start, those in charge have buried their heads in the sand and refused to listen to the many voices from across civil society that have for years warned that the entire project was shaping up to be a disaster.
People in our area have been some of the loudest voices in the campaign against HS2, and we should all be proud that they have stood up for themselves and others, to protect homes, local businesses and wildlife. I will continue to do my best to support them, whatever decision is made.
But let me be clear: in Yorkshire we desperately need infrastructure investment, especially in transport. However, I believe the focus should be on connectivity between the many northern regions, rather than simply to London.
During the election, I wrote about how it often takes longer to get from one part of Yorkshire to another than it does to get from Yorkshire to London.
For years transport investment has disproportionately benefited London and the south. Over the past ten years, the north received £289 per head on transport, while London received £708 per head on average.
I don’t expect this to change, despite Boris Johnson saying that the north of England will be a priority.
New analysis from the Local Government Association shows that reallocation of council funding could redirect hundreds of millions of pounds from communities in the north to those in the south, leaving areas like ours facing fresh cuts to public services. Clearly the PM cannot be trusted.
Whoever is elected the next leader of the Labour Party needs to make fighting for the north a priority. They need to put together a credible investment plan, focused on transport, health and our high streets, and backed up by devolution. There is much to build on in our last manifesto, but there is more work to do, and we want northern communities to be at the heart of the process.
What we don’t need is HS2 to continue to cost the public billions, wreak havoc in our communities, and distract from the real issue of northern investment.