Journal column

LEGEND has it Margaret Thatcher looked down her nose at blokes who travelled by sticking out an arm at a stop to travel then pressed the bell to get off.


“A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure,” the Rusty Lady is said to have opined.


As a fair-minded Geordie, I accept the quote is of disputed provenance.


But what's indisputable is when it comes to transport the Conservatives have driven North East England off the road.


Official figures from the House of Commons Library show just a measly 2.7% of central government transport funding was spent in our region since 2012.


That's the lowest figure of any English regions by some distance and across the Disunited Kingdom only Northern Ireland is behind us.


I'd cry if I didn't laugh when the Tories claim they're “overseeing the largest programme of transport investment since Victorian times” with the bombast of a used car salesman flogging two welded together bangers as a nearly new motor owned by a vicar's daughter with view miles on the clock.


Crossrail and HS2 rail projects were anyway initiated in the Labour era as was Heathrow's third runway and up here we are England's forgotten corner to the Home Counties dominated Tories.


We do mind the gap on trains when much less is spent on the rail network up here than down there.


The gulf is symbolised by Northern replacing rolling stock not with shiny carriages fresh out of the depot but refurbished 25-year-old London trains considered good enough for us if not commuters in and out of the capital.


The same's notoriously true on roads when we're left forgotten at a red light as schemes are unveiled elsewhere.


After years of persistent local campaigning the Government finally gave in and announced it would stump up the funding for new shiny trains on the Metro.


Yippee but why did it take so long? The wait was longer than for a service on a Bank Holiday and the first aren't timetabled to pull into the station until 2021.


Passengers know from grim experience how often the near 40-year-old trains now rattling along on the lines are breaking down more frequently than is good for getting home when you promised.


In 2016-17 for every £300 per head spent in the North East more than three times as much, almost £1,000, was lavished on Londoners.


It is no great surprise the House of Commons Library, an independent and authoritative source of information, concluded: “Public spending on transport, both in absolute terms, and on a per capita basis is considerably higher in London and the South East than other regions of England.”


I've seen and heard Tories sneer and mock when North East MPs raise in Parliament the problems of poor, expensive bus services which shows how out of touch they are when the majority of passenger journeys on public transport in our region are on buses.


Ever since Thatcher and the Tories deregulated buses in 1986 under a privatisation drive the price has been paid by passengers the snootier Conservatives look down their noses at, whether Maggie did or didn't consider men over 26 as failures.


We've started forcing the Tories to confront the mess they created but they're stuck in an ideological slow lane, overtaken by Labour Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald.  Andy's smart, Middlesbrough's MP, and a Labour Government would take back control of buses by giving democratically elected local authorities outside London to do what happens in London.


That means franchising services and restoring publicly owned bus companies run for passengers instead of profits, research finding as much as £276-million could be saved a year.


Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is heading in the right direction.


Meet your MP


Stephen Hepburn has served the Jarrow Constituency as MP since 1997.

He was last elected to serve in June 2017 and won the seat with a conclusive 17,263 majority.

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