Sunday, 9 March 2014


Personally I have no problem with the Severn bridges being nationalised, it just makes more sense for them to be run by the National Assembly rather than Westminster and the Department for Transport. With that in mind the preparations to transfer of control of the Severn Bridges to the National Assembly in 2018 need to start now, as if they return to Westminster (and the Department for Transport) the tolls will never be reduced.

VAT or no VAT it is still a tax on jobs and businesses
The truth is whatever Westminster based party forms the next Westminster Governments, they and the Department for Transport they simply cannot be trusted to put the interests of commuters and businesses first, they will never put Wales first. For most Westminster ministers and most Welsh MPs the Severn Bridges and tolls may be out or sight and out of mind, but they loom large in the imagination and the wallets of long suffering commuters, businesses and visitors.

Now while there appears to be a general political consensus that something must be done about the Severn bridge tolls, which is nice, but not particularly helpful. The mixed messages from the Department for Transport on the eventual ownership of the bridge and the potential fate of the tolls are not helpful. Local Labour MP’s may now be jumping up and down in relation to the Severn bridge tolls, but, this begs the question just exactly where were they between 1997 and 2010 when their party was in government.

There is talk of when the bridges come back in public ownership (in 2018) that the tolls may be maintained for an additional two years to recoup the Westminster government’s expenditure on maintenance. What may make this sting some more is that VAT will probably be dropped, so those organisations which have been recovering their VAT from bridge tolls will have to pay in full?

Now Plaid Cymru 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 Cymru 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 Cymru is to cut the tolls. By the time the two Severn Bridges come back into public ownership in 2018, Severn River Crossings plc will have milked its cash cow to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds. To add insult to injury the old (M48) Severn Bridge is periodically closed at weekends for routine maintenance, which is funded by the Department for Transport, from public coffers.

Back in 2012, Plaid Cymru submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Transport seeking details of any correspondence between it and the Welsh Government on the level of tolls since May 2011, the last Assembly elections. In its response the Department of Transport merely listed emails between the Highways Agency and the Welsh Government advising of planned increases in tolls for 2012 and 2013.

The FOI request revealed that there was no other correspondence between the Welsh Government and the Westminster Government.  In 2012 a report for the Welsh government suggested that abolishing the tolls would increase traffic by an estimated 12% - equivalent to about 11,000 vehicles a day – and that businesses and commuters forked out around £ 80 million pounds a year crossing the Severn bridges.

In October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls which has recommended that the revenues should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. This study of 122 businesses was 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.

While noting 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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