When the first cases of Covid-19 hit the UK, the PM led us to believe that by now, the darkest days would be behind us. Instead, we have just recorded our highest ever daily death rate, families continue to lose loved ones and people struggle to cling onto their jobs, as we stare down the barrel of the worst recession experienced by any major economy.
The reality is, this Government has been too slow to act when it really matters – when people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake.
People could be forgiven for taking a sceptical view on its promise to deliver for the North – including the Transport Secretary’s “total 24/7 commitment” to driving through the pledges he has made to get Leeds moving.
From March this year, rail fares will have risen by 43 per cent - two-and-a-half times faster than wage growth – leaving Brits paying some of the highest fares in Europe. And by then, the cost of some season tickets will have increased by more than 60 per cent on 2010 rates.
The picture is similar on our bus networks, with fares shooting up 40 per cent in the last decade, while the Government continues to cut support to keep services running.
And the pain looks set to get worse: in the past few weeks alone we have seen ministers quietly admit to a £1bn slash to Network Rail’s budget, putting vital infrastructure projects across the country at risk, including plans for additional capacity at Leeds station.
Coupled with cuts imposed on the Transport for the North scheme and an apparent reluctance to see through HS2 in its entirety, it’s yet more evidence of the neglect and indifference shown to the North by this Government, which offers little more than meaningless soundbites and broken promises.
Rather than engage in a superficial debate, Labour want to see proper plans at a local level and with local communities about how we build a transport system for the future.
We want to see investment in transport infrastructure to boost economic growth and rebalance the economy, including building Crossrail for the North and upgrading and expanding the rail network across the country.
Instead of spending billions on bailouts for shareholders – with the taxpayer forced to foot the financial risk – we want passengers to be put first by taking rail franchises into the public ownership.
Those who rely on buses to get to get to work and to visit friends and family should be able to see their communities benefit from London-style powers to improve services and keep ticket prices down.
And though the pandemic has understandably dominated headlines, we cannot forget that we are still in a climate emergency and that green, efficient transport is the future. With transport now the largest contributing sector to UK emissions, it is time to press the Government for unprecedented ambition on decarbonising and upgrading our transport networks, and to embed positive new trends towards walking and cycling.
Our northern towns and cities should be the beating heart of the recovery. They have been held back for too long by poor decision making from Westminster. If the North had seen the same per-person investment as London over the last decade, it would have received £66bn more.
Just as we will never fulfil our potential without proper transport links, the Conservatives’ planned raids on family incomes will also damage the North’s recovery. Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson’s council tax bombshell is set to rise by almost £100 a year for a typical households in Yorkshire and the Humber.
Councils already cut to the bone by the Westminster government are being forced into an impossible situation thanks to the failure to make good on its promise to do all it could to support them through the pandemic. This is the wrong time to force them to raise council tax, hitting families already worried about paying the bills.
As we emerge from the turmoil of the past year, we cannot return to business as usual. We must rebuild for a better future.
By working with local leaders, Labour want the coming months and years to provide opportunities for all, restore people’s pride in where they live and give families the security they need to prosper.
If Boris Johnson is serious about helping every part of the UK recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, then he must deliver on what he has promised – and stop treating the North as an afterthought.
That means truly listening to the communities impacted by the decisions taken in Westminster and taking the commitment his party made to bridging the gaps of inequality across our regions seriously – not just paying lip-service.
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