Thursday, 2 January 2014


Samuel Johnson said amongst other things that the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully… perhaps the prospect of being hung out to dry (financially) by the big six energy companies, the supermarkets, and Severn Crossings PLC no longer registers as anything more than simple irritation. Perhaps we can become so accustomed to being fleeced that the grimly anticipated rise in Severn Bridge tolls (which kicked in on January 1st 2014) no longer registers. The cost of crossing into Wales by car has increased to £6.40 - a rise of 20p - while small goods vehicles must now pay £12.80 (a 40p increase) and HGVs £19.20 (a 60p increase). The Severn Bridge operators roll out the same old tired excuses for their greed saying that the tolls were agreed by a parliamentary order and in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI).

Not quite a subsidised toll bridge near us...
Yet when it comes to the Severn Bridge tolls, the often ignored literal elephant in the room is the subsidy that is applied to the Humber Bridge. When last in office at Westminster, Labour chose to quietly and regularly subsidise the Humber Bridge tolls, yet, it made no move what so ever towards doing anything about dealing with the tax on jobs, businesses and commuters which are passed off as the Severn bridge tolls. This may explain to some degree what our local Labour MP’s do little beyond trotting out the same old tired press releases bemoaning the failure of the Government to do anything. Interestingly enough the Humber Bridge subsidy has been continued by the Con Dem Coalition Government, a government that has driven the post Thatcherite ‘free market’ ideology into wholly new areas, yet has shown no inclination to curb the Humber Bridge state subsidy or offer to help Welsh commuters and businesses out with a simular subsidy.

At some point in 2018 ownership of the two Severn Bridges will revert back to the Westminster Government ‘s Department for Transport, but only takings from the tolls reach £ 996 million pounds (at 1989 prices). The Labour in Wales Welsh government has said that it would like to take control of the tolls in future when the Severn Crossings return to public ownership and that it would look to reduce them although it believes abolishing them would leave too great a hole in the budget. A recent consultants' report revealed that the abolition of bridge tolls could boost the economic output in Wales by £ 107 Million pounds. By the time the two Severn Bridges come back into public ownership in 2018, it has been estimated that this cash cow may have been milked to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds.

Oddly enough to add regular insult to regular injury the old (M48) Severn Bridge continues to be periodical closed at weekends for routine maintenance, which are funded by the Department for Transport, from the public purse. Plaid has called for the transfer of powers (to Wales) so that the tolls on the bridges can be reduced, something that could have a considerable impact on businesses and the economy. With control over the bridges devolved, Plaid would cut the tolls to £2 to cover maintenance costs. The costs for upkeep are £15 million per year, but motorists and vehicles using the crossings currently generate £72 million pounds per year. While the tolls would form a useful revenue stream for Welsh Governments, the priority of Plaid is to cut the tolls.

Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls recommended that the revenues from the tolls should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area. It noted that the economic impact was not substantial for most, the 2010 study found that transport; construction and tourism-related companies reliant on regular crossings suffered increased costs and reduced competitiveness. The 2010 study found that Welsh businesses were unfairly penalised by the tolls and concluded that the money should be shared with the Assembly Government and used to improve Wales’ roads and public transport.

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