I have a small degree of sympathy with the view expressed by the Welsh Government that London should pay for rail electrification projects, as control over Network Rail (in Wales) has not (yet - if you read the Silk Commission report) been devolved to Wales. Now I would qualify that by saying that London (as the senior partner) in the Union should pay for UK wide infrastructure projects, and the electrification of the railway from London to Swansea would tick the box for most people as being a UK infrastructure project.
|Rail electrification in the South?|
The electrification of the Valley lines into Cardiff, possibly Swansea and hopefully Newport may well be another matter, having not been on the cards when the original electrification projects were planned. It is worth noting at this point that the last New Labour Westminster Government never intended the proposed electrification of the old Great Western line to go beyond Bristol – so much for standing up for Wales. As for electrifying the Valley lines, I would personally suggest getting on with it, it has been calculated that the Welsh Government could pay for that from its own transport budget, even after the Con Dem imposed cuts.
The problem comes from the fact that when it comes to transport infrastructure projects we in Wales literally have one hand tied behind out backs, because, unlike in Scotland, we have no control over transport infrastructure planning. It should be obvious by now that this (and the previous Westminster government) have little more than a passing interest in Wales, let alone any concerns for our national interests.
|Handbags at fifty yards?|
There is an old diplomatic service / civil service adage about crisis management, which goes along the lines of first you create your crisis, and then you manage it. That said there is more than a distinctly manufactured feel to this latest spat between the Labour Government in Cardiff Bay and the Con Dem coalition government in Westminster. Perhaps rather than a constitutional crisis or even a disagreement about more powers or a clash over point of principal, it may be more of a case of handbags at fifty yards.
The party formerly known as New Labour, when in Westminster government proved to be largely indifferent to Welsh interests, beyond political token gestures. This view can be said to have been backed up by the Welsh MPs voting record on matters of interest to Wales, since their party lost power in Westminster. Sadly this latest spat merely serves to strengthen the illusion that our nominally Welsh Labour government is standing up for Wales, the danger is that this dispute could end up delaying the much needed electrification of the valley lines for a few more years.
We should have learned by now that we cannot rely on any Westminster Government to deliver for Wales. Let's electrify the Valley lines and the Ebbw Vale line (initially) into Cardiff by using some of the National Assembly's 0.78 billion transport budget. Here in the South East, we need railway stations at Caerleon and Magor and better facilities for passengers and more stopping services at Severn Tunnel, Chepstow and Abergavenny along with more secure park and ride schemes and better integration with local bus services – it’s time to stop asking and to start demanding that government actually delivers for our country.