LET us set aside for the moment the cost of the bit of the high speed rail link which IS going ahead – currently on course to treble its original budget.

And let us gloss over the fact that, like every other massive rail infrastructure undertaken by the Department of Transport and Transport for London, its cost over-run is matched only by the years long delay in its delivery.

Let us dwell instead on the fact that ambitions connected with levelling up and erasing inequalities are rarely deemed affordable once you leave the south east of England.

The people’s republic of Yorkshire, and the “Northern Powerhouse” of Greater Manchester both woke up this week to the unwelcome, but hardly unexpected news that their high speed train had just hit the buffers.

London to Brum is apparently as good as it’s going to get and what one (Tory) MP described as the white elephant now minus one leg will continue to gobble up eye watering sums of taxpayers’ money in order to shave a few minutes off a commute.

Yes, yes, say the fans of this latest train set, but think of the jobs it has created in its wake. Alternatively, m’dears, we could think of how many jobs might have been created by the less sexy but rather more crucial matter of home insulation.

Don’t say that out loud though, and especially don’t glue any of your moving parts to the Queen’s highway, or you’ll land up in the pokey. The kind of incarceration which continues to elude those members of government who hand out juicy contracts to pals and party donors.

There is a pattern here. A pattern of investing colossal sums of money on infrastructure projects which will undoubtedly benefit residents of London town and surrounding areas, but which are utterly irrelevant to most of the rest of the UK. Except for the not so small matter of the latter still having to pay for them.

When the Channel Tunnel was finally built (with cost over runs and many delays) Scotland was assured that this would be to her massive future benefit given the upgraded transport links which would assuredly render it accessible to them too.

But, just like our friends in the English north, these links existed only in the fantasies of successive transport secretaries. Our use of the tunnel still depends on very expensive trains, or planes or driving south utilising that car parking facility otherwise known as the M25. Be sure to book a flexible Chunnel ticket.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer sets out garbled position on Scotland and HS2

STILL, at least the furore over HS2 halting at the English midlands has averted many gazes from London Crossrail – another project designed to aid Londoners’ trips across their capital. You might suppose that getting from Lancashire to Yorkshire was rather more of a priority given its ancient rail rolling stock and massive over capacity.

Not apparently as essential of 118 kilometres of London tracks and tunnels scheduled to be fully operational by 2018 and now, fingers and toes all crossed, due to come on stream by May 2023. A snip at a kick in the pants of £19bn at 2019 prices, whilst its shiny new £2.6bn Euston Hub would appear to exist only as an artist’s impression.

And who among you can still remember HS1 (with cost over runs and delays) built to speed up the journey from London to the Channel Tunnel?

The luckless Grant Shapps (below), sent out on the airwaves to hail the cancellation of the much promised new train services to the north of England as the latest Johnsonian triumph, played a dodgy hand as best he could.

The National: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gives a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London, on the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and the Midlands.
Picture date: Wednesday September 4, 2019. PA Photo. See PA
story TRANSPORT Rail. Photo credit should

Why these lines would now be electrified, upgraded, doubtless polished to a brilliant sheen; just the very thing that the northern lieges really cared about. Whereupon every known liege, most especially his chums in business and industry, rose up as one to scream betrayal.

Since he’s only the Secretary of State for Transport; he may not have had the time or inclination to read the report on upgrades prepared by Network Rail in 2013. In essence it said that upgrades rather than new lines were unthinkable because of the massive disruption involved.

They concluded that the weekend work involved – some 2770 total weekend closures – would effectively see the end of inter city train trips at the weekend for 15 years. Andy Burnham, the high profile mayor of Greater Manchester suggested that the new integrated rail plan could put progress in the north of England back 100 years.

Doubtless there is a degree of political hyperbole in play here, and Mr Burnham, being a former Labour MP, is not the kind of chap a Tory cabinet wastes much time fretting about.

Indeed one of the striking aspects of this Conservative administration is that when it does find the odd few million down the back of the sofa to bestow on local councils north of Watford, it usually winds up in the kitties of Tory-controlled ones. Better heeled than their neighbours or not.

There is an equivalent game in play in Scotland, where the ever devious Michael Gove (below) hatched a plot to distribute pockets of largesse to local schemes and councils regardless of the fact that doing so drives several coaches and many horses through the Devolution Settlement.

The National: Communities Secretary Michael Gove

Obviously it’s less easy to schmooze Scottish Tories with bribery since there’s not so many of them around as there is on the other side of the border.

But he calculates, and he may well be right, that cash strapped recipients are not about to get too fussy about the source of new money as long as they can get their mitts on some. The fact that it will be festooned with Union Jackery such as makes the former EU branding of support seem fairly discreet, may irritate, but, he assumes, not enough to have his dosh flung back in his face.

We must, I suppose, be grateful for small Scottish mercies. Given the clawback of long promised projects in the north of England, we can assume even someone as brass necked as the current PM will now stay stum on some of his other wheezes.

We may be spared endless speculation about bridges from the south west of Scotland to Northern Ireland. Let’s face it, Boris’s track record on bridges is none to great. You will recall his garden bridge initiative – obviously crucial since London only had another 35 in play.

Fifty million quids worth of consultancy fees later, the whole fanciful nonsense was binned – it got that far, as so many of Johnson’s electric light bulb moments do, because of the enthusiastic backing of glitzy chums.

ONE of the statistics which smacked my personal gob last week was the news that the money funnelled into Dido Harding’s Test and Trace saga, at £37bn, was more than the entire Scottish block grant.

The National: Baroness Dido Harding

Baroness Harding of Winscombe (above) – ennobled by her pal David Cameron – had something of a chequered career long before Test and Trace became a byword for beating the world only at spending vast sums to little avail.

She was chief executive to Talk Talk when it was fined £400k for negligently revealing the personal details of some four million customers.

Three months after being appointed to head up Track and Trace, Public Health England was abolished – in mid pandemic – and Harding became interim chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency. Which proves the old adage that the bigger you fail the higher you climb.

Happily, sanity finally prevailed and she didn’t get her wish to take over NHS England. What a shame, said absolutely nobody.

Finally let us reflect that this train debacle represents another tearing up of the 2019 Conservative manifesto. To misquote Sam Goldwyn, Johnson’s promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.