What are the Tories hiding in their Northern Poorhouse?

I’ve previously written about the shambolic “Northern Powerhouse” as promoted by the Tories, particularly in relation to the “pause” in the electrification project on the Trans-Pennine Lines. It’s a personal subject for me, living between the two lines that run from Leeds to Manchester, filled with trains barely fit for purpose when they were introduced.

As someone who lives in Osborne’s “Northern Powerhouse”, I have a right to know if the Tories were lying to us when they promised unprecedented infrastructure spending. If it was known in the industry that the electrification of the Great Western Main Line would mean that electrification in the North would have to be delayed, then ministers almost certainly knew. But voters were not told when they went to the ballot box in May.

So I used the best tool in the arsenal of any activist: the Freedom of Information request. Back in July, I asked for the minutes of any meetings between the Department for Transport and Network Rail regarding “the delay of electrification of the Manchester–Leeds via Huddersfield line”. Then I waited and waited.

After five months and eleven days, and intervention by the Information Commissioner’s Office, I finally received a response: they have the information, but it would not be disclosed because a “qualified person” believed it to be prejudicial to the conduct of public affairs. In this case, the qualified person was a “Minister at the Department for Transport”.

But there is a devil in the details. They, at least, confirmed that there were meetings in the twelve months leading up to the election regarding the issue of Trans-Pennine electrification. But we’re not allowed to see them. Arguably, were we to see them, I would bet good money that Network Rail advised the Government that the electrification project was coming off the rails, but the Government pressed with their soon-to-be broken promises anyway.

So how can we believe a word that comes out of the Government’s mouth when it comes to what is now becoming a Northern Poorhouse? The Government are lurching without true purpose when it comes to infrastructure, and it is our responsibility to expose their lack of plan or promise for the Northern communities they have promised to lift up.

* Sarah Noble is an activist in Calderdale. Alongside her role on the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats executive, she shares a keen interest in devolution and transport policy.

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8 Comments

  • Thomas Shakespeare 28th Dec '15 - 4:07pm

    Shocking stuff Sarah. No wonder the Tories are attacking FOI if this is what’s been going on in government. Appalling.

  • Adam Pritchard 28th Dec '15 - 4:27pm

    As far as I am aware there was an announcement before Hendy was even published that both the Transpennine and Midland Mainline would be completed on time. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/transpennine-and-midland-mainline-electrification-works-to-resume

    I don’t know the answers to the other questions raised

  • Peter Watson 28th Dec '15 - 5:08pm

    I seem to recall that “in the 12 months leading up to the election” we had Lib Dems in government who also promised us a “Northern powerhouse” (http://www.libdems.org.uk/nick_clegg_we_will_transform_the_north_into_and_economic_power_house).

  • Thomas Shakespeare 28th Dec '15 - 7:11pm

    Hi John. I don’t fully agree with the Tory attitude to devolution but agree with you that we need to accept “half a loaf”. What annoys me more, though, is the dishonesty of the Tories in only admitting the mess they’d made after the election. Northern voters needed to know ASAP that the Tories would be unable to meet their election pledges so they could vote accordingly – with all the facts.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 28th Dec '15 - 7:13pm

    Hi Peter. I would be very surprised if the Tories even told our party about it – Nick, Danny, Vince or anyone else. If I were a Lib Dem minister, after all, I’d be shouting from the roof tops about what a mess the Tory transport minister had made, especially in the run up to the election.

  • Peter: we were willing to train qualified engineers to ensure that the works finished on time. There’s a reason why our deficit reduction programme excluded infrastructure spending: we wanted to give the biggest infrastructure overhaul in decades.

    Adam: The Trans-Pennine North electrification was due to be completed by 2019, instead of 2022, and Calder Valley by 2024. This means that instead of First TPE getting electric stock in 2019 and their diesel stock transferring to Arriva Northern to ensure that the Pacers are off the tracks by the 1 January 2020 deadline, the government have to buy expensive diesel stock that may only have a shelf life of ten to fifteen years. Virgin also have to keep a hold of diesel stock for their Huddersfield–London service they’re contracted to start in 2019.

    The whole point is that 2018–19 is a pinch point for so many railway schemes nationwide. The Tories don’t have a plan and never did have a plan for sustainable 21st century transport.

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