There is an old saying, he who pays the pier calls the tune? That said, it is worth remembering that it was the Labour in Wales government in Cardiff, not the Con Dems in Westminster, that chose to reduce investment its capital investment in railways from £37 million (2013) to £12 million (2014-15) – incidentally this £16 million pound saving would not even pay 10% of the provisional costs of the Heads of the Valleys road scheme let alone make a dent in the interest payments on any loans used to pay for the proposed M4 Relief Road.
Now it would be easy to suggest that Labour in Wales’s decision is literally be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul as the budget won’t stretch to paying for everything. Limited budgets aside for the moment, this was still a bad decision, one that does little to build (or rebuild) our fragmented public transport system. The underlying problem is that rail investment is not yet devolved and the real decisions about significant infrastructure investment in Wales are still being made in Westminster and Whitehall.
So obviously when looking at transport infrastructure spending and development with a London centric perspective (which no doubt continues to hold sway in some of the darker reaches of the civil service here in Wales) tends to ensure that smaller projects that could have a significant impact here in Wales tend to drop down the long list of priorities. This lack of budgetary authority is something that directly interferes with our ability to choose the most cost effective transport option.
Full budgetary authority for transport in Wales needs to be devolved to the Welsh Government because the combination of spilt budgetary authority (between Cardiff and London) and the ineffective arms length relationship between the Welsh Government and Network Rail is not addressing our countries transport needs. Now the lack of budgetary authority is only part of the problem. It is worth remembering that the Transport (Wales) Act (which was effective from February 2006) gave the National Assembly the power to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system.
Now this may not sit well with what appears to be an old style Welsh Office inspired civil service that may still be thinking in London centric terms having failed to grasp the concept of devolution. That aside, the real problem is the almost total lack of any vision on the part of the Labour in Wales government, which like various other Labour groups across our country is more concerned with being there than doing anything.
Even the most passive observer of the hitherto inert Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff should not be surprised to see that road has been chosen over rail in relation to transport priorities. This largely passive but not mostly harmless government has shelved several rail schemes that could make a real difference to people’s lives and deliver value for money in favour of questionable expensive road schemes that won’t deliver much to our communities let alone value for money.
Back in January (2013) the Welsh Government released figures that show that it intended to spend around £805 million pounds on finishing off the Heads of the Valleys Road (something that has been on the drawing board by my reckoning since 1958) by 2020. Now they are salivating at the prospect of additional financial powers even if part of the price may be a commitment to construct an excessively expensive M4 Relief road with dubious economic benefits and a significant price tag – I wonder whatever happened to value for money?