I SEE that northern powerhouse has been in the news again. First up many of the promised improvements to railways in the north were scrapped shortly after the election had been won by the Tories. Network Rail was blamed for the sudden evaporation of the pre-election pledge. Vote for us and the north will be a place of power and wonder, or so Chancellor George Osborne was happy to suggest, brandishing dodgy promises of the £13 billion he was going to splurge on the north.
This blandishment turned out to have been backdated, and the rail improvements quickly morphed into a forgotten episode of Thomas The Tank Engine (Thomas And The Politician’s Promise).
Now we are all sad-faced engines. Further peering at the small print (other dubious promises are available and don’t leave home without your scepticism) has devalued even more the Chancellor’s special offer for the north.
According to a report in The Observer, only £3billion from that much-flaunted sum is actually for railways, of which nearly half had already been allocated, mainly to upgrading the railways round Manchester. As for the remaining £10billion only half of that is for major road schemes: including the A1, which may end up in the north but doesn’t start here. The remainder is said to consist of standard allocations of money made to local councils for bus lanes, local highway maintenance, cycle lanes and filling in potholes.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, or possibly the Department for Telling Porkies, told The Observer: ‘The northern powerhouse is more than transport investment.’ The spokesman went on a bit more – ‘this gives the north a powerful new voice’ possibly adding ‘and if you believe that you must be dumber than your whippet’.
It’s worth remembering on Budget Day, and the first Tory-only one in nearly 20 years, that tank engines and voters should always be wary of whatever is pulled out of a hat today. The good things will probably turn out on later inspection to be full of holes, while the bad things will mostly only be discovered once we get to the bottom of the small print.
Budgets are really just about political grandstanding, and nowadays most of the surprises are leaked beforehand. Among the leaky pipes this time is George Osborne’s Keep Sunday Special Offer bid, allowing shops to stay open even longer on a Sunday.
Man On Ledge recalls a time when the shops in York were all closed on a Sunday. How pleasant it was to wander round the streets. Sometimes you do wonder where all this constant spending has got us.