“Today, I’m publishing the preferred route to complete the dual carriageway on the A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith”
Those were the words of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this evening as he fronted the government’s daily Coronavirus briefing.
After setting out some of the latest statistics about the virus in the UK, the Transport Secretary proceeded to provide a history lesson on the work of Dr. Beeching, information on new bicycle maintenance vouchers and also details on how the dual carriageway on the A66 would be completed to create the first new all dual-carriageway across the Pennines in 50 years.
Grant Shapps is the Transport Secretary and so it perhaps shouldn’t come as a major surprise that he talked about transport. In any other time, the announcements he made would maybe have topped the headlines or at least sparked considerable positive media coverage for the government investing in the nation’s transport network. However, the UK is currently facing the Coronavirus pandemic, which has so led to the confirmed deaths of over 36,390 people in all UK settings.
Anyone tuning in late to today’s daily briefing may have wondered if they had tuned in to the wrong channel, or perhaps at the wrong time, due to the general lack of information about the government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Many would probably agree that it is right for the government to plan for the future and continue working on the type of infrastructure projects we heard about today. Would people say its the most important thing to talk about – probably not.
There is so much uncertainty around both the present and the future because of the virus pandemic. There are key questions about the science, testing and the economy, some of which remain unanswered.
The elephant in the room at today’s briefing was, of course, the story about Dominic Cummings travelling 260 miles during the lockdown. The story wasn’t addressed in the opening statement and it was no surprise that journalists repeatedly asked about it in the questions that followed. After multiple times answering questions about the story, Mr Shapps said;
“I think it’s perfectly right that questions are asked and you’re all asking the same questions and not I appreciate about the transport, the significant transport announcements, the upgrading of the A66 to dual-carriageway and the billion pounds to make people’s lives better and faster to connect there and I appreciate that but I do think its important to note that questions were asked quite rightly and the questions have been answered”
It could though be argued that we shouldn’t be talking and hearing about the A66, or Dominic Cummings as much as we have been. They are both news stories, but with hundreds of people still dying each day in the UK from Coronavirus, some may say that we would rather know about what is happening and impacting more of us.
There are questions over schools, care homes, general lockdown measures and a whole list of other topics that are having a real impact on people here and now. Transport does affect us and some remain unsure about what justifies a journey on public transport, for example – though educating people about the history of the Beeching train cuts is perhaps less important right now.
The way in which the government is using its daily briefings will no doubt be called into question, in a time where the UK continues to live in fear of a deadly virus.
Photo Credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street under licence (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)