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Opinion

Planes, trains and automobiles:The big Welsh Government gridlock

04 Apr 2023 6 minute read
Delyth Jewell, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member

Delyth Jewell MS, Plaid Cymru spokesperson for transports 

“Our transport system is one of the most important national assets we have. It connects people to one another, binds communities together and enables businesses to grow and expand.”

So, what happens when a transport system is not fit for purpose?

The statement above was made by the Welsh Government as recently as 2021. Yet in the two years since, we’ve seen the biggest hike in rail fares, and an announcement to cut emergency funding for buses. We should be making it easier for people to use public transport, but instead, more obstacles are being put in their way.

We know, of course, that funding for public services has been squeezed hard of late, but these cuts are particularly hard to take when we know that Wales is being robbed of £5bn from England’s high speed railway project.

Sorry, I should say ‘England and Wales’s high speed railway project.’

Because even though not one inch of track is being laid in Wales, the project has been classed as an ‘England and Wales’ project.

This matters – because under the devolution settlement, if Westminster spends money on ‘England only’ projects, they have to send the equivalent money to the devolved nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, via a calculation known as the Barnett formula. It’s not a fair formula, but Westminster have decided to start ignoring it at their whim.

So, in this instance, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been paid quite a bit of money, because, clearly they do not benefit from a high speed railway line that is solely within the borders of England.

And Wales? Wales does not get its share of funding, because a decision somewhere in Whitehall was made to class this project as ‘England and Wales.’

Yes, you’ve read that correctly. A railway project that is being built solely in England has been classed as though it were of benefit to Wales, on the basis that people in the north of Wales will now be able to get to London more quickly, despite the fact that it’s also been shown that HS2 will economically disadvantage Wales.

Suddenly, those cuts to public transport seem even more off.

Buses

Let’s look at what’s going on with buses.

If you use buses to get to work, to college, to your medical appointments, then you should be very worried about what’s happening in Wales at the moment.

During the COVID pandemic, we couldn’t use public transport like we normally would. The amount of people who were allowed on the bus was severely restricted – and this meant that bus companies needed support to keep the routes running.

While there are no restrictions on numbers in buses any more, bus companies haven’t seen a return to pre-pandemic bus usage. It’s not surprising – when people are forced to find alternative ways of travelling, it will take longer to encourage people back. So the bus companies – especially those who run routes furthest away from our towns and cities – have been relying on the Welsh Government for support.

And people are still using buses – in fact, three quarters of public transport journeys are made using buses.

But the Welsh Government has said it will be cutting this additional support. This will be nothing short of a disaster for the people who still rely on buses to get around Wales. People in the poorest areas will be hit hardest by reductions in bus services, making this a social justice issue. Bus access is also a key economic issue: it determines whether people can access work. Further cuts to services could truly leave people isolated in their communities.

There are problems (yet again) with a lack of funding from Westminster, but the Welsh Government has also blamed this impasse on the fact that the numbers of people using buses haven’t risen to what was seen before Covid19.

We know that we all need to change our habits – but I wish that we could see more encouragement from the government to help us to do the things that are right for our planet.

Wales has set an ambitious goal to reach net zero by 2050, and thanks to Plaid Cymru, they are exploring the possibility of bringing that goal forward to 2035. If we are to reach that milestone, public transport has a vital role to play.

Options

My concern is that, if those options to use public transport aren’t there, more people will keep using their cars and choking our air with smoke. That will be bad for our communities, and bad for our environment which is already facing a climate catastrophe.

If we want people to use buses and trains more frequently, then it’s incumbent on the government to ensure that there are services that are reliable, frequent, and to use. That will take investment. Clearly, Westminster isn’t doing what’s right for Wales when it comes to transport (it never does). So it’s even more important that the Welsh Government does everything it can to make this situation easier for people to make the right choices.

And that is the reason that my party, Plaid Cymru, took a debate to the Senedd recently. We called on the Welsh Government to extend the emergency funding for buses, and also to bring forward long-term secure funding to maintain bus routes, so that our bus companies aren’t having to rely solely on emergency funding.

Our public transport system is creaking under the strain of a lack of investment and care.  Billions are taken from our taxes to finance high-speed rail projects that are of no benefit to us, whilst our bus services are cut to the bone.

Yes, we need greater funding, and we need further powers. But we can’t just wait for Westminster to reform its regressive ways. We need solutions made in Wales, so our message to the Welsh Government is to keep our buses running, to keep our communities connected, and to keep Wales moving.


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R Jones
R Jones
10 months ago

Interesting,I do not have a car so am dependent on public transport. I was all in favour of an integrated transport policy in Wales,and the idea of TFW, but that seems to have been ditched. Who even thought about giving less money to bus companies?

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

What’s a Metro dad?

Cymro
Cymro
10 months ago

Why not push for proceeds from this owed £5 billion to be put towards a railway that connects our country within our own borders (North – South)? I completely agree that bus services and the bus/metro network in Wales needs major investment, however given this type of money, why not start acting like a country with major transport ambitions and a vision of its own?

Is a railway which connects our country too much to ask?

hdavies15
hdavies15
10 months ago
Reply to  Cymro

The present Bay Bubble regime can’t be bothered to even think about Wales wide communications issues. No strategy, no ideas, just hot air. They will focus on the South East, Metro, or half metro, and the little bit of North East Wales that they wouldn’t mind hiving off to the Cheshire/Mersey/Greater Manchester “super region” so they don’t have to think about it any more.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
10 months ago
Reply to  Cymro

We need the Welsh government to set up our own taxation and customs collection system, and for our people to contribute to our own economy.

That means the Welsh government would need to boycott the UK R&C regime.
Is this present lot capable to do this for the Welsh people?

Iago Prydderch
Iago Prydderch
10 months ago

“Our transport system is one of the most important national assets we have. It connects people to one another, binds communities together and enables businesses to grow and expand.” This is the Delyth Jewell who supported Extinction Rebellion when they caused disruption to transport in Cardiff. This is the same Delyth Jewell who thought it was right to scrap the Newport bypass. She didn’t care about businesses and public transport then. We all know that Plaid Cymru are anti-business and don’t care about the supply chain to keep businesses operating and restocking food in shops just as long as they… Read more »

lufcwls
lufcwls
10 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

Hahaha, what a load of rubbish! How is the Newport bypass connected with public transport? Public transport is to do with trains and busses, both of which would negate the need for a bypass if they were funded and promoted properly. ER are also supporters of public transport! Think about the purpose of protesting rather than the effects of it. Yes it temporarily creates more pollution due to idling cars but the purpose is to remove those cars (obviously). The only way to get through to those car drivers is to inconvenience them. People will always chose the most convenient… Read more »

Antony Jones
Antony Jones
10 months ago
Reply to  Iago Prydderch

It has been proven time and time again that infrastructure such as trainlines and bus links have a positive bonus to business. Connecting disparate parts of Wales with train infrastructure, would equally reduce carbon emissions and promote commuting and travel between Welsh towns and cities. To enable businesses to be able to operate within Wales, you need the infrastructure to support those operations. We currently do not have that. It’s not anti-business to promote better interconnectivity. The Newport bypass just means more cars on the roads. And when you move from motorways to cities you just get congestion. The answer… Read more »

Howard Humphries
Howard Humphries
10 months ago

I whole heartedly agree with everything in this article at last someone who tells it the way it is , now if the Welsh government hadn’t wasted 55.5 million they would have had plenty to fund the bus companies and some left over for road repairs.

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
10 months ago

Instead they are letting the UK take our money.
Money which came originally from people in Wales paying taxes into the UK system.

How can we tolerate such an unfair system or even see it as Mr Drakeford sees it as “an Insurance Policy” ?

Keith Parry
Keith Parry
10 months ago

Time Drakeford sacked Lee Waters the Minister of Transport. Buses,trains,roads and airport all a total failure under his watch.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago
Reply to  Keith Parry

Waters and the Baroness…

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Give me a tree hugger over a twig planter every time…

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
10 months ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

It is time the Welsh public sacked the whole of this Tory enabling shower and
Elect a Plaid Cymru government to proceed to our country’s independence and self determination.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
10 months ago

And ask LSR to be First Minister…

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
10 months ago

This is so feeble. The answers offered are: 1.Wait for Westminster to change its ways 2. Press Labour to spend more of block grant and 3. More powers. But ‘more powers’ seems a throwaway token remark. Plaid has no road-map other than a Referendum, a tactic which is hardly working in Scotland. We really need to go back to the drawing board.

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