I question the Labour in Wales Government’s sincerity when it comes to calling for control of the Severn Bridges (and the tolls) to be transferred to Wales. I suspect that they are trying to make as much political capital as possible with their calls to the Con Dem Government in Westminster transfer the Severn Bridges to Wales; it’s easy to do this when you know that the Con Dems won’t do it. It’s a good if cynical example of a pretty inert government creating the convenient illusion that it is ‘standing up for Wales’.
Were the Con Dem Government, as part of the implementation of the Silk Commission recommendations, to offer as part of the package the transfer of the Severn Bridges (and control of the tolls) aside from shock I would not be surprised if Labour in Wales rejected the powers offered. Such an eventuality would in my opinion be as a result of the near nuclear explosion from Labour in Westminster Welsh MPs, numerous fevered telephone conversations down the M4 from Westminster and the Labour in Wales’s not so underlying lack of belief in the devolution for Wales.
At present it costs £6.20 to take a car over the M4 and M48 bridges from England to Wales, while driving into England is free. The bridge toll for vans and minibuses is £12.40 and for lorries and coaches is £18.60. A Welsh Government report last year suggested that abolishing the tolls could increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day. The report also revealed that businesses and commuters spend £80 million pounds a year crossing the bridges.
At the moment the M4 and M48 Severn bridges are run by a private company (Severn Crossings Plc) carrying around 80,000 vehicles a day. The concession will finally come to an end and the bridges return to the UK government when takings from the tolls reach £996 million pounds (1989 prices) at some point in 2018. While the Labour in Wales’s government in Cardiff has expressed a desire to take control when they return to public ownership in about 2018, the Con Dem Westminster government has shown no inclination to make a decision about the bridges' future management one way of another.
If the Con Dems offer nothing of value then Carwyn will have to wait for a Labour Westminster government before he can get his hands on the Severn Bridges and the tolls. He may have a long wait for both a Labour Government in Westminster and any commitment from Labour in Westminster to transfer control of the Severn Bridges to the Senedd. When the last Labour Government was in office before the financial crash there was scant commitment to transfer any powers or assets to Wales, so why should things change after the next Westminster general election.
|Not a subsidised toll bridge near us...|
The Conservatives in the Senedd have also proposed transferring the bridges to Wales, cutting the bridge tolls and using the proceeds to spend on infrastructure – which puts them out of step with their government in Westminster. So we have elected representatives from the same party in opposition to each other over an issue of importance to the Welsh people and our economy. Nothing new here, Labour in Wales was often at loggerheads with Labour in Westminster, putting party (and self) interest before the interests of Wales.
Now when it comes to transferring the Severn Bridges (and their income) to Wales, this is also not a new idea. Back in October 2010 Professor Peter Midmore produced an independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls which recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee back in December 2010 recommended that the bridge tolls be cut once the concession ends.
Plaid has long called for control, or shared control, over the bridge to be devolved to the Welsh government and for negotiations to start immediately to ensure that the transfer is in place by 2018. The Party, committed to reducing the tolls on the Severn Bridges to under £2 per car, recognises that the high cost of the tolls impacts on commuters and businesses (especially freight and logistics) and on people visiting Wales. The bridges are of such importance that it is only fair that control, or at least shared control, over them is in the hands of the Welsh people.