“Rebalancing The Economy Post-Brexit”, Wealth Or Welfare For The North And The Regions?

A former Tory MEP John Longworth

wrote “As I sit on a train on the east coast main line, (a brand new Hitachi train which nonetheless is over an hour late, which has no water in the toilet to wash hands despite Coronavirus, which has a faulty reservations system, and is overcrowded) I wonder what are the chances that HS2 will fulfil any of its much vaunted promise”.

“As someone who comes from the north, was educated in the north and returned to the north to live over a decade ago, I can testify that once proud and affluent towns have fallen into decay and become unrecognisable. This long process was exacerbated and sharply accelerated by the financial crisis, a phenomena entirely generated by the greed and negligence of the “City” and not incidentally, by government spending.

“It is true that the last Labour government was spending more than is sensible, but not excessively so prior to the crisis. The myth of the government spending bogeyman was an expert piece of spin doctoring by the establishment to shift the blame for the economic crisis. Government borrowing only got out of hand once tax returns from the City collapsed and government, that is to say the taxpayer, was forced to bail out the banks. This crash hit the regions hard and salt was thrown into the wound with land owning “Barley Barons” in the south, insulated from the economic downturn via the mechanism of the EU CAP, otherwise known as “welfare for the rich”, funded by the taxpayer. No doubt some of the country’s landowners were also the very same bankers. To add further insult to injury, taxpayers in the impoverished north (and for that matter other regions) also pay to subsidise citizens in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“When we talk of taxpayers it is important to remember that this is not just people who sacrifice income. On the contrary it is everyone. All people pay VAT, the vast majority pay: Council Tax, Vehicle Excise Duty, the BBC Licence fee, Stamp Duty and the multitude of other stealth taxes. We all pay for the import duties and levies charged on imported goods and food. Many of these taxes bear down disproportionately on those with the lowest incomes, including those in the regions.

“Leaving the EU and the stated intent of this government to democratise the benefits of this, provides an opportunity, at last, to truly rebuild a nation. In return it also offers an opportunity to deliver to the politicians a three term administration. However, government should beware as a fundamental misinterpretation of what the regions want seems to be developing. The people of the north do not want welfare, they want wealth!”

In an effort to obtain local rail travel justice for West Lancashire I wrote to Grant Shapps “Dear Grant Shapps, I know that your government has declared its concern for those “left behind” in the North. I, and many others like me in West Lancashire, have been left behind by government rail transport policies that massively subsidize metropolitan areas while actively allowing blatant discrimination against our ages and disabilities.

“In the Greater Merseyside Region Combined Authority (GMRCA), all over 60s and disabled people benefit from your department providing hugely subsidised off peak Merseyrail and Mersey Ferry services with government capital grants. Despite the Merseyrail line running into Town Green, Aughton Park, and Ormskirk, all stations in West Lancashire, we are denied that off peak benefit simply by being in the county of Lancashire.

“I’m in both categories, being aged 80 with some disabilities, and there are believed to be around 4,000 or so of us in West Lancashire, as our MP Rosie Cooper can tell you. By virtue of these huge subsidies that are funded by taxes we pay on our pensions, over 60s and disabled people in GMRCA have the use of free off peak travel on the railways and Mersey Ferries.

“Rosie Cooper will also tell you we have fought this discrimination, with her support, for years, to no avail. I can quote you from the then Chief Executive and Director General of Merseytravel, Neil Scales 01 July 2011, “We do not believe the Equality Act or Human rights Act arguments are a valid justification for requiring anyone to be allowed to join Merseytravel’s concessionary travel scheme”. Arrogance personified!

“Scales also defended Merseyrail against the possibility of Judicial Review of its blatant discrimination, claimed by me that any services it provided, in or out of the Merseytravel area, were and are subject to discrimination and equality laws. Yet he was happy for Merseyrail’s annual profits, circa £14,000,000, to be paid to its foreign shareholders, especially Arbellio!

“But now, you have announced the “Railcard for military veterans”, which will not surprise you to know affects residents of West Lancashire within reach of rail services in and out of our Borough.

“We have many Veterans, Individuals aged 16 and over who have served at least one day in the UK Armed Forces. This includes those of us who were conscripted to undertake our National Service. “UK Armed Forces veterans residing in Great Britain will be referred to veterans throughout this report. Retirement age veterans are aged 65 and over”.

“You want to value our service in HM armed forces and make the railcard available from 11 November this year (2020). But with some common decency you might consider combining the new Veterans Railcard immediately for West Lancashire with the Merseyrail concession. There would be no cost to Merseyrail and no loss, off peak trains run virtually empty between Ormskirk and Liverpool”.

The response?

“Thank you for your email of 3 February 2020 to the Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport, about Merseyrail services and the forthcoming Veterans’ Railcard scheme. Your email has been passed to the Passenger Services team at the Department for Transport for reply.

“We appreciate your concerns over Merseyrail and the Veteran’s Railcard. We should begin by pointing out that Merseyrail is a devolved operator for which the Department is not responsible, and therefore any concerns should be raised with it directly, or through MerseyTravel, which is responsible for transport delivery for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. Contact details for both organisations are available on their websites.

“You may be interested to know that under Section 28(3) of the Railways Act 1993, train operators are required to participate in certain approved discount card schemes for young travellers, disabled passengers and those over 60. As a result, you are eligible for discounted travel on the Merseyrail network using a Senior Railcard. This railcard costs £30 a year and offers anyone 60 years or over one third off all Standard and First Class, Anytime, Off-Peak and Advance fares. Further information about the card can be found on the Senior Railcard website.

“You may also be entitled to a Disabled Persons Railcard, which costs just £20 a year and offers one third off all rail travel for you and a travelling companion across the network. Again, full details of the benefits and eligibility criteria for this Railcard can be found online. When the new Veterans’ Railcard comes into operation later this year, it will also offer discounted travel, rather than free travel. The card will cost £30 a year, but will initially be available for £21 as a limited introductory offer. The Veteran’s Railcard will offer a spouse and/or dependent children a discount when travelling with the card holder. Most railcards can be used across Great Britain given the interconnected nature of rail services, and the aspiration of the Government is that the Veterans’ Railcard will be accepted on train services throughout Great Britain.

“We are currently working with the rail industry to develop this new railcard, which will be available from November. This includes making sure that veterans can apply quickly and simply to buy their railcard online. Further details on how to buy the railcard will be made available later this year. Thank you again for your email and for raising your concerns. We hope this reply is helpful”.

In truth, what we in West Lancashire do is exactly what Mr Longworth referred to as “add further insult to injury, taxpayers in the impoverished north (and for that matter other regions) also pay to subsidise citizens in Scotland and Northern Ireland” but we do it to subsidise citizens in Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral, in fact the whole Greater Merseyside Region Combined Authority area.

The Transport Department Rail Group simply do not understand the disparity in services received by residents of metropolitan areas that we, who are excluded, fund from our personal taxation. While the Department of Transport isn’t directly responsible for the devolved Merseyrail, it is surely as responsible as any government department is for avoiding discrimination against elderly and disabled residents?

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