Lessons learnt from coronavirus will help tackle regional inequalities, Grant Shapps pledges

Northern Powerhouse Minister Grant Shapps has warned that the nation’s economy is being plagued by “bureaucratic bindweed” as he pledged to learn the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic to tackle glaring regional inequalities.

Thursday, 14th May 2020, 7:40 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th May 2020, 7:42 pm

Mr Shapps today claimed the recovery from the coronavirus crisis will be boosted by a multi-billion-pound infrastructure package announced by the Government, and that “the pressing need [for] communities to level up across the country dictate that infrastructure will be even more important in stimulating our recovery and securing supporting new jobs”.

He said: “There has been a monumental effort in every corner of the country to slow the spread of the virus and protect our NHS.

“However, the battle is not over yet and we urge everyone to keep up the good work and only travel when they need to.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps leaves Downing Street, London, after a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photo: PA

“To help those who do have to use public transport or get out on the roads to do their jobs, we’ve been accelerating infrastructure upgrades to make sure that, as we gradually reopen our society, everyone can benefit from smoother and safer journeys with better connections for our future.”

Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said some £96m worth of improvements had been delivered on the North’s railways during April.

And he said across the country the lockdown had meant a vast number of projects had been completed far more quickly than they otherwise would have been.

But Labour said public transport was facing a crisis now as swathes of people piled on tube carriages and buses in the capital to return to work, and that it was wrong for the Tories to use the daily briefing in Downing Street to “pat themselves on the back”.

It came amid stark warning from the Office for Budget Responsibility that Government borrowing could hit £298.4bn this year due to the response to the virus.

And it was announced there were a further 428 deaths recorded today of people who had tested positive for coronavirus - 27 of them in Yorkshire - bringing the total across the UK to 33,614.

Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing at 10 Downing Street Mr Shapps set out plans for nearly £2bn of extra spending - £196m of which is earmarked for Yorkshire and the Humber.

The package will target around 1.3m nuisance potholes across the region and bring smaller improvements to upgrade local networks, such as enhancing road safety at key locations, the installation of priority bus lanes and the creation of projects to help lock in improvements in air quality experienced during lockdown.

However, Mr Shapps said “bureaucratic bindweed” meant British infrastructure was some of the most expensive and slowest to build in the world.

He said: “If building a new hospital takes just two weeks, why should building a new road still take as long as 20 years?

“If GPs’ surgeries can move online, why are most rail passengers still travelling on cardboard tickets?

“We must exploit our new-found capacity to respond at pace and apply it to rapidly improving our infrastructure.

“We must examine why it is that bureaucratic bindweed makes British infrastructure some of the costliest and slowest in Europe to build.”

He added: “By combining fast home internet access with vastly upgraded transport connections, we can help revive many of our small and medium sized towns, which over the decades have been left behind.”

Barry White, Chief Executive at Transport for the North, welcomed the investment and said: “The immediate task must be to equip our public transport infrastructure with everything it needs to facilitate the safe movement of people and have clear communications with passengers. This includes the key message to avoid using public transport wherever possible so that the limited space is available for those essential users.”

He added: “The package of measures announced today and others made recently should be seen as just the start of what needs to be a fully-funded move towards levelling-up our national transport network to provide the best possible chance of economic recovery while meeting ambitions around decarbonisation.”

But Jim McMahon, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “Rather than patting themselves on the back about road and rail upgrades, Ministers need to focus on the chaos on public transport especially on the tube, a mess of their own making.”

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