Alan Castle: Do not ignore us up north, please Chancellor

DEAR Chancellor of the Exchequer,

I realise that the residents of Northumberland or to put it into southern jargon ‘that lot up north’ have received little in the past from Government.

I hoped, obviously only to be proved wrong, that we would receive cash in your autumn statement for projects which are crying out for Government investment but once again you have ignored this rural part of the United Kingdom.

The North East of England and by that I mean the whole North East of England, not just the industrial belts of Tees, Wear and Tyne, have high unemployment levels, low wages and have to pay more than most for fuel either to get to work, to get to shops, to run our children to schools or just to survive.

You might just have heard of the A1 in Northumberland. It does run north of Newcastle and in places resembles a country lane. It is an accident black spot.

Let me share with you an experience of mine from just a few days ago. Heading south from a meeting in Berwick, I joined a convoy of vehicles at Scremerston. From there until one of the shortest stretches of dual carriageway in the country at Ellingham some 20 miles further south, the speed of my vehicle ranged between 35 and 42 miles an hour. The speed limit is 60.

In that increasingly lengthy convoy, I have no doubt there would have been businessmen and tradesmen and there were certainly a large number of heavy goods vehicles.

Think of the cost to the economy of the lost time and expense.

This was not a rare case but one that is becoming more and more common. I note, despite many approaches, that you have seen fit once again to ignore any plans to upgrade the A1 to dual carriageway through the length of this county. I also note that you did find considerable millions for other roads in the country.

The accident figures alone and the continuingly ever-increasing death toll must be another reason why this road deserves your Government’s urgent attention. Or is it a case that we are in the sticks and can be ignored?

Drive north over the Border and the roads become safer with dual-carriageways. It often seems to me that this part of the world would be better off in Scotland. For a start, we would have free tuition fees for our university students, free prescriptions and many other benefits.

You did abandon plans to increase petrol duty by 3p in the next few months, but already in north Northumberland we pay far above the average for fuel. In towns north and south of Alnwick, you can fill up at 128.9p per litre. In Alnwick, it would have cost me 135.9p for the same litre yet the local garage trots out the excuse that it is down to delivery charges. Which, of course, is rubbish. The only petrol station has a monopoly.

We look forward to competition next year and hope that will bring a fall in the price of fuel.

You must have heard, or your colleagues will have heard, of the appalling state of our High School in Alnwick.

Despite its condition, I am told by reliable sources, that recently some classrooms have had to be closed because of their appalling state. No one at the highest level seems to be that concerned.

I often wonder if this part of the country suffers because we never elect members of the ruling party although this time our hard-working and long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith is a member of the coalition.

Despite the totally inadequate buildings for education, the school has produced many outstanding pupils, many of whom are leaders in their field, which must be a pointer to the dedicated staff.

Living on the edge of England, we often find that we are ignored by central government over many things.

Yours truly,

Alan Castle