MP’s Column - HS2 diverting precious funds

When HS2 was being discussed on the floor of the Commons recently, I used the debate on the bill to highlight the poor rail provision we experience here in the Gainsborough constituency.

As I pointed out in my speech, if you missed the train from Gainsborough Central to Brigg, you would have to wait a whole week for the next one. The service at Market Rasen is often a single carriage, infrequent, and arriving overcrowded. This does not bode well for those of us trying to get to Newark for a connecting service.

One of our central worries about HS2 is that it will divert funding away from conventional rail, where the need is clear. To cite just one example, almost all the railway switches in France are heated to make them more impervious to cold – and this in a country much warmer than our own. It may require money, but the long run pay-off in terms of reliability makes it worthwhile. In addition to this, other changes need to be carefully investigated such as improving signalling systems and reducing the number of first-class carriages. Our battle to improve the service whether in our part of Lincolnshire or in the country as a whole continues, and CP5 – Network Rail’s strategic business plan for 2014-2019 – does plan a range of upgrades.

In health we’ve had very good news on the performance of the National Health Service. Performance in NHS Accident & Emergency departments was very strong over the winter. Despite having over 1,000 more admissions each week than the year before, A&E targets were met for both the last quarter and the last year as a whole. Waiting times in A&E have fallen from over 70 minutes under the Labour government to just half an hour now.

Outside of A&E, the overall picture for the NHS is also improving. Doctors carried out 800,000 more operations ever year under this Government than under the previous one, and 23% more patients have been treated for cancer, while a new Cancer Drugs Fund has been established. Hospital infections have been cut in half, and mixed-sex wards have been virtually eliminated, providing a much more respectful and comfortable environment for patients.

One of the things I was most keen on when chairman of the Public Accounts Committee was reducing unnecessary bureaucratic waste. In the health service, the reforms pursued under this Government have saved over one billion pounds every year in this Parliament in back-office costs. These savings have been invested back into the NHS, allowing us to hire 1,700 more nurses and 7,000 more doctors than under the previous Government.

Like many bad things, wind farms never seem to go away completely. I am in frequent touch with Eric Pickles, the Communities & Local Government secretary, and he shares my confidence that planning decisions, even on appeal, must reflect the wishes of local residents. The overwhelming majority of constituents are against wind turbines, and I will do my best to ensure this is respected.

Sir Edward Leigh

MP for Gainborough