Transport Secretary leaves Northfield with Questions to Answer


Events yesterday suggest Tory Ministers are even more like buses than I first thought..

The other week, I commented on the fact that you rarely see a Tory Government Minister in Northfield until there is an election in the air. Then they all seem to arrive at once. Like buses.

I have now discovered that they are even more like a badly-run bus company than I first thought. It’s not just that Ministers don’t seem to understand timetables. They apparently haven’t even quite grasped the difference between the past and the future.

Just to recap: Government Ministers are supposed to inform local MPs in advance when they plan to visit their constituencies  irrespective of their Party. Yesterday I received an e-mail at 7.40pm telling me that the Transport Secretary “will be briefly in your Birmingham Northfield constituency today on a private visit.” The problem with this “advance notification” was that the visit had already happened. It wasn’t very private either. The Tory candidate for Northfield had posted promotional pictures of it on Twitter two hours earlier.

Oh well, I’m sure it was just the latest innocent mistake of a Minister forgetting to tell the local MP when they visit my constituency.

But if the promotional photos showed the visit was also not intended to be private as had been claimed, why did the Tories also forget to tell the public until after it had happened? Who knows, somebody might have wanted to be there to ask the Transport Secretary about the performance of the Cross-City line? Or about why the Conservative Government doesn’t allow British publicly-owned rail companies to bid for UK rail franchises even though they allow foreign-owned ones to do so? Or about the pothole epidemic on local roads? Or about why Ministers don’t let Birmingham have the powers to regulate local buses in the interest of passengers as London does?

Maybe I have answered my own questions here. A smiley promotional photo with the Solihull-domiciled Tory candidate for Northfield must have seemed more appealing to the Transport Secretary than having to answer questions from Northfield residents themselves. Even so, a Transport Secretary not knowing whether his own visits are in the future or the past is really no way to run a railway. Or to run a Government department, come to that.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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