Tom Richmond: Jake Berry hoist by own petard over council flag-flying plan

Jake Berry is the Northern Powerhouse Minister.
Jake Berry is the Northern Powerhouse Minister.
0
Have your say

IF this is the best that Ministers can do, the country might as well wave the white flag in 2019.

I am referring, of course, to the idiotic New Year announcement made by Jake Berry, the Local Government Minister.

Yorkshire needs good reason to wave the white rose flag in 2019.

Yorkshire needs good reason to wave the white rose flag in 2019.

Clearly underwhelmed by his high street and Northern Powerhouse briefs, his big idea is for English counties to fly their own flags.

He claims that the “English lion has been reduced to the Cheshire Cat by wet civic adherence to local government reorganisations”.

And he added: “With Brexit just around the corner it’s time he roared again across England.”

Really?

Just where do you start with this nonsense that Mr Berry appears to have concocted with his friend and mentor Boris Johnson, the ex-Foreign Secretary?

First, most councils are so broke that they probably couldn’t afford to buy sufficient flags adorned with a logo like Yorkshire’s white rose.

Second, this should be a matter for local authorities – if they do have the money – rather than interfering Ministers with nothing better to say or do.

Third, it will take more than this to mask the Government’s troubles over Brexit that were only put on hold temporarily over the Christmas and New Year break. For the record, Mr Berry backed Remain in June 2016 – but now says he would vote to leave the EU.

Fourth, this flag-waving exercise won’t help those town centres that are counting on Mr Berry to put in practical measures to save high streets – or champion the Northern Powerhouse in the corridors of power.

Fifth, this pathetic pronouncement is totally at odds with Mr Berry’s obstinate opposition to the One Yorkshire devolution deal which does, in fact, have the potential to unite this county because of its history and heritage.

Instead of trying to ‘balkanise’ Yorkshire by turning God’s own county into a series of city-regions competing against each other for the same opportunities and funding, he should be supporting local leaders in their efforts to get devolution off the ground – or make way for someone who shares this region’s aims and ambitions.

And that, if truth be told, would be a genuine reason to get out the bunting and white rose flags...

THE first week of 2019 is not over – and the curse of ‘Failing Grayling’ has already struck. Even though Transport Secretary Chris Grayling spent much of last year saying that Pacer trains – buses on rails – were being phased out, there is now a delay.

Rather than the process to take these antiquities out of service beginning by the end of 2018, rail operator Northern says they will remain in use throughout the year because of delays upgrading infrastructure on parts of the network.

Built from the remnants of British Leyland buses in the 1980s, these rattle-traps – noisy and uncomfortable – were only supposed to stay in use for a decade.

“We need to continue to operate the Pacers and we are still working on the phasing of their retirement,” said a Northern spokesman.

It does not bode well, does it?

AT least the Government saw sense and did not recommend a knighthood for Chris Grayling in the New Year honours – it must be running late just like the trains that he presides over when not compromising airport security or awarding contracts to ferry firms with no vessels in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Yet transport tycoon Ann Gloag, who co-founded bus and rail group Stagecoach with her brother Sir Brian Souter, was given a damehood for services to business and philanthropy.

Talk about a very galling reward for failure after the financial collapse of the East Coast Main Line franchise last year which Stagecoach operated with Virgin.

EVEN though “sustaining a thriving rural economy” is one of Defra’s key objectives according to its website, there is little other evidence that it is doing so.

Take the Campaign for Better Transport’s suggestion on New Year’s Day that smartphone technology be used to help people in isolated rural areas to share lifts as bus services continue to decline.

One problem. The areas most bereft of public transport are invariably those that have the most patchy broadband or wi-fi coverage – and this, I’m afraid, will continue until a high-profile Minister is given the job of co-ordinating and championing rural policy.

I’M afraid Theresa May needs a new speechwriter (and I’m not volunteering). Her New Year message could not have been more uninspiring, duller or vaguer. “If Parliament backs a deal, Britain can turn a corner,” she said with regard to Brexit.

Which deal? Her deal – or a mysterious plan B? And, if a corner is turned, what does the future hold? Sorry, the Prime Minister and her team need to start 2019 by getting on the front foot, being more positive, honouring domestic policy commitments like NHS and social care strategies and setting the agenda rather than waiting for events to unfold. It’s called leadership.

IT says it all when the people most offended by Brexit politicians being condemned as “a bunch of clowns” are fairground performers who do not wish to be associated with this merry-go-round.

“A circus relies on 100 per cent co-operation and teamwork, it relies on everybody knowing their job and doing it,” says David Koynot, a former co-chairman of the Association of Independent Showmen.

It is actually good advice to our country’s leaders. Take some inspiration in 2019 and get on with the job.

tom.richmond@jpimedia.co.uk