Transport bosses in the North should be given more budget raising powers to pay for vital improvements but risk being kicked out of office if they fail, Boris Johnson said last night.
Mr Johnson, the hot favourite to become Prime Minister when Tory members name the party’s new leader later this month, told an audience in York that more accountability was needed for the nation’s railways.
The former Foreign Secretary and his successor Jeremy Hunt were quizzed by Yorkshire Tories over their stances on Brexit and the social care crisis.
And the two leadership rivals stressed their commitment to promoting the North if they became Prime Minister, with both pledging support for the £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail project that is currently being considered by the Treasury.
While Mr Johnson has promised to review the flagship HS2 project connecting London and the North, Mr Hunt defended the controversial scheme, saying it sent a message that wealth was being spread across the country.
In a question and answer session, Mr Johnson said the dominance of the Department for Transport over the rail industry prevented accountability.
He said: “In London everyone knew that I set the fare pots, I set the fares, and I was responsible for time-keeping. I was responsible for the improvements in the tube, or not. People knew that if I failed they would kick me out of office.
“You need political responsibility for these railways and particularly in the North. I think Transport for the North, if it is going to make any sense we should be giving them a budget, saying they should raise some locally but that they should pay the political price for failure to deliver.”
During the event at the Barbican, Mr Hunt suggested he would ease pressure on the social care system by creating incentives for people to look after elderly relatives in the family home.
The Foreign Secretary said there were already 420,000 three-generation households with children, parents and grandparents living under the same roof.
“I am not saying we all want to live with our mother-in-law. But I think that three-generation families are a wonderful thing.”
Mr Johnson acknowledged it will be a “stretch” to meet his latest leadership campaign pledge to boost police numbers by 20,000 within three years.
Both men said they supported the idea of more powers being handed out to local leaders, though they stopped short of backing specific proposals to break the devolution deadlock in Yorkshire.
On a region-wide One Yorkshire deal, Mr Hunt said “we have to get this plan right” before progress could be made, while Mr Johnson suggested he supported smaller deals across the region.
He said: “I do think it can make a difference if there is more political devolution. I know people might not necessarily want a mayor of Yorkshire because there is a risk that it might not be a Conservative mayor and that would not be a good thing.”
The hustings was the latest event being held around the country before Conservative members choose their new leader later this month.
Conservative Party members leaving the latest leadership hustings said they were impressed by Jeremy Hunt’s honesty over issues such as the foreign aid budget and fox hunting but believed Mr Johnson was the most likely to secure Brexit.
Mr Hunt, who appeared on stage second, wooed waverers when he stayed in the foyer after the main event debating points and posing for selfies.
William Reed, 16, from Beverley, said he chatted to the Foreign Secretary about Saudi Arabia and foreign aid.
Earlier, the biggest applause was for a questioner who said the foreign aid budget might be better spent helping homeless veterans.