Grant Shapps announced that retired trains were now going to be converted into new classrooms for children in northern communities on Twitter on Monday.
More than a thousand Twitter accounts commented on the “bizarre” news, with several accounts dubbing it an “embarrassment” as they tore into the cabinet minister.
Shapps’ tweet read: “As #GreatBritishRailways marks a new era for our railways, we’ve put retired Pacer trains to new uses serving Northern communities.”
He said the trains had become a “new classroom for kids”, as well as a kitchen for a mental health charity and a family support centre at a hospital.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was quick to hit out at Shapps, claiming: “The patronising contempt you have for the North is disgusting.”
She also demanded that the Conservatives “fund our schools and railways instead of using carriages as classrooms”.
Shadow cabinet minister and MP for Stockton North Alex Cunningham expressed his own dismay at Shapps when he tweeted: “Goodness me – we have been used in the North to getting the crumbs as the Tories spend billions on South based rail projects.
“Quite an admission on school and welfare underspending that we need to repurpose old rust buckets for such uses.”
Labour MSP Paul Sweeney also joined in with the debate, tweeting: “Teaching kids in clapped out old train carriages is in the finest traditions of Toryism. I remember being taught Maths in leaky old portakabin classrooms, before a Labour government rebuilt my school.”
Wales news editor for Global, Mike Hughes, then reminded tweeters that Pacer trains themselves were already rejected buses before they were put onto railways. He added: “I’m not sure this can be chalked up as a ‘win’.”
Shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth then took aim at the decision to turn the trains into “a family support centre at a hospital” and Boris Johnson’s 2019 election promise to build 40 new hospitals.
This pledge has been widely disputed, with many believing the government intends to fudge this figure by presenting new hospital wings – or new family support centres – as whole hospitals.
Ashworth tweeted: “Minister unveils latest of Boris Johnson’s promised 40 ‘new hospitals’.”
Anand Menon, director of the thinktank, The UK In A Changing Europe, pointed out that the government were treating the North poorly, yet again.
He tweeted: “We’re bragging about using old trains as classrooms. And, seemingly, forgetting that Pacer trains are still in use in the North. Because, well, it’s the North, innit?”
Other Twitter accounts criticised how Shapps promised the government would “level up” the country back in July, with one frustrated user writing: “Nothing says that you take levelling up seriously like repurposing a 50-year-old knackered train carriage as a classroom for Northern kids.”
Another joked: “Mate, someone’s hacked your account and trying to make out converting a train that used to be a buss into a classroom for Northern kids is something to be proud of.”
A third referenced the chaos all pupils have had to endure throughout the pandemic, believed to have seriously impacted their education, and tweeted: “I personally would die of terminal embarrassment if, as a government minister, I decided on tweeting out in the year 2021 that a bus that was grafted onto the wheels of a train carriage had been turned into a classroom.”