As UK residents we are fortunate to be living in Scotland where there is much less of an "every man for himself" culture and a realisation that we live much more happily when we share the cost of vital things.
The very fact that anyone came up with a policy in England to be called "Levelling Up" is recognition that things in that country are far from level, and the angle of the incline between the South East and the rest of the country has been increasing substantially in recent years. This has been a serious failing on the part of the UK Government.
However, when viewed through the prism of public transport in the Highlands it is clear that in Scotland we have our own version of that incline. To some degree this is unsurprising, since it is a brave accountant who doesn't try and justify everything in terms of 'value for money', and of course in transport that has meant you needed to measure the number of people who will directly benefit, and opt for projects which match that prerequisite.
The key here is "directly benefit" and when it comes to public transport that can be misleading. Having a good infrastructure which provides excellent service to all residents, visitors and freight operators raises the standard of the whole country, making it a far more desirable place to live.
Fortunately the idea of 'value for money' is changing in terms of what 'value' we are seeking. This is spelt out in Transport Scotland's Scottish Rail Holdings Framework Agreement and Financial Memorandum. Within this document is the Rail Services Post 2022 Policy Compendium which is "a collection of policies to guide and empower ScotRail Holdings Ltd and ScotRail Trains Ltd in the delivery of rail services on behalf of the Scottish Ministers." Quoted in the Compendium is the 2018 Rail Enhancements and Capital Investment Strategy (RECIS) which contains the phrase, "optimise value for money in terms of economic, social and environmental benefits". This clearly liberates planners from the constraints of population counting and encourages them to take a Scotland-wide view.
What we need now is for planners to take a good look at how far behind Highland railways have fallen, and do what it takes for them to catch up. The current projects on the Far North Line are a fine beginning to the process but there is a very long way to go. We look forward to the implementation of the "Helmsdale Hub" recast of FNL services, and future investment in extra passing loops to give timetable resilience as well as offering new possibilities for both passengers and freight.