I started this week on a positive note by attending the launch of the Midland Hub at Birmingham Council House. It’s a plan to improve rail services across the region with more routes and increased frequency. Not entirely a new idea, I remember a version in the mid-90s when a young Councillor McCabe chaired Birmingham’s Transport Committee, but it’s an idea whose time has come and Midland Connect, the body responsible since 2015, have done a fine job in marshalling the business case and benefits.
We desperately need some good news on the rail front. The chaotic Avanti West Coast service has been given a six-month reprieve at huge public expense, West Midlands Railways require urgent improvement, and it seems the government is determined to ensure rail strikes over Christmas. If all those foreign rail shareholders can receive their dividends, we can afford a better offer on pay and without strings that conjure up the bad old days of Railtrack, horrific accidents, and safety nightmares.
You’d think the government would give greater priority to transport, especially railways in a region like ours. The evidence is that investment of this kind promotes economic growth and prosperity.
Support for the Midland Hub was in Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto but that was back when ‘levelling up’ was the Tory mantra of the day. Since then, we’ve had Liz Truss and her economic wrecking ball which left the economy with an £80 billion black hole. The mantra now seems to be that we all must tighten our belts although some, like public sector workers, more than others. Even with all that tightening, and tax increases, the Chancellor still intends to make about £27 billion of public spending cuts.
I really hope the Midland Hub is not a casualty of this new austerity because it’s a value for money project.
So come on Rishi, what we want for Christmas is the government to treat railways seriously. Make the Midland Hub a reality and authorise a genuine offer to resolve the dispute. The public deserves it, our region needs it, and our economy is crying out for it.