Tom Richmond: Reputations hit buffers again over Leeds trolleybus fiasco

The reputations of Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan and council leader Judith Blake are on the line over transport.
The reputations of Leeds Council chief executive Tom Riordan and council leader Judith Blake are on the line over transport.
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LIKE you, I’ve still not received an invite to next week’s transport summit in Leeds which was hastily arranged when the city’s botched trolleybus plan was – thankfully – given the red light by a Government planning inspector after £72m of taxpayers’ money went to waste.

I had assumed, erroneously, that it was missing in the post – just like the apology that residents are still due from Leeds City Council’s top executives and councillors for their planning failures – until I learned that other trolleybus critics appear to be absent from the guest list. The council obviously doesn’t want to be shown up again by local residents.

If council leader Judith Blake and chief executive Tom Riordan think a get-together featuring many of the councillors and officials behind this sorry saga will suffice, they should think again before their reputations hit the buffers.

First those concerned should have issued a fulsome apology by now. However Coun Blake says this needs “would have to be collective” because the so-called NGT scheme was supported by all parties and maintains that Leeds was pressurised to go down this route by the last Labour government. If the council thought Ministers were in error, why did they not speak out and refuse to go down the trolleybus route on principle?

Second this mea culpa – which could have been published for free on the council’s website to save costs – had the potential to be accompanied by a call-to-arms asking all residents to inform the council of their priorities. Consensus and public confidence could not be more critical.

Third, the council should be setting out – ahead of Friday’s get-together – how taxpayers can hold to account those officials and councillors who did not scrutinise ‘follybus’ when it was being planned.

Indeed, the planning inspector’s conclusions could not have been more damning of their competence, not least how it would have increased congestion and not improved transport links to the city’s most deprived areas. Who was supervising Martin Farrington, the city development director who, by his own admission, is not an expert in “transport planning”. The council leader? The chief executive? Either way, oversight procedures did not work.

Fourth, the local authority should be seeking to recruit the country’s very best civil engineers – people not only qualified in the delivery of transport infrastructure project but who might have know how to transform the road and rail network in one of the country’s most polluted and congested cities.

Fifth, Leeds Council should – once it comes up with some sort of plan – ask a panel of respected experts, commuters and taxpayers to scrutinise its proposals and ask the difficult questions on a regular basis which were ignored for too long over trolleybus.

Public trust has been shattered and the city’s “very poor civic leadership”, “limited vision” and “bad attitude at times” were made reference to in a disparaging column in The Financial Times last weekend. How embarrassing.

After the Government allowed the West Yorkshire city to keep the £173m that Ministers had set aside for this botched project, Leeds has one last track to get transport policy back on track. It will only happen with proper public accountability and scrutiny. The worry is that the city’s leaders do not want this.

AFTER having his integrity repeatedly questioned by David Cameron in Parliament, fair play to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, for sharing a platform with the Prime Minister at a Remain rally.

It speaks far more about the dignity of this son of a bus driver than the Tory leader’s conduct – or the scaremongering Michael Fallon. The Defence Secretary has still to confirm whether he trusts the Labour politician on national security.

THE PM will rue the day when he did not demand – as part of his so-called renegotiation – that the European Union published audited accounts. This issue is resonating with acquaintances who would not describe themselves as political animals. If they can see it, why couldn’t David Cameron?

RYEDALE’S fracking opponents will not like this, but Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom’s political stock has risen during the EU referendum. A Brexit campaigner, she has presented her financial arguments clearly without resorting to insults.

A former director of Barclays during a business career prior to entering Parliament in 2010, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that she becomes Britain’s first female Chancellor.

THE example of Andrea Leadsom contrasts with Brexiteer Priti Patel – the Employment Minister pressed the political self-destruct button when she accused David Cameron and George Osborne of being “too posh” to care about immigration.

Yet Ms Patel told Parliament in October 2013: “Conservative Ministers in the Home Office have made great progress in the last three-and-a-half years in tackling the problems with our immigration system.” She must have wanted a job. Eight months later, she became Mr Osborne’s Exchequer Secretary.

BORIS Johnson was holding a pint of bitter as he strolled to the crease for some knockabout Bank Holiday cricket with fellow Brexiteer Sir Ian Botham. I did assume this was a nod to Sir John Major – the former Prime Minister once described Britain as a nation of cricket and warm beer – before remembering that the EU vote is, in fact, a referendum on the Tory leadership and he wanted to prove his ‘man of the people’ credentials.

LISTENING to Tories tearing into each other over Europe, I came to the conclusion that British politics had never been more rotten. And then up popped Tony Blair...

AS England’s footballers head to the European Championships along with the Welsh, Northern Irish and Irish squads, it won’t be long before the inevitable speculation about whether David Beckham will be knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to himself.

This should be kicked into touch straight away. Beckham never achieved anything with the national team apart from one infamous red card. The only football gong should be a posthumous knighthood to Bobby Moore, the man who did lead England to World Cup glory 50 summers ago.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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