Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Give us the money?

The Welsh Affairs Committee at Westminster told us yesterday that the UK Government had saved at least £430 million by not electrifying the railway line between Cardiff and Swansea, and suggested that the whole of the money saved should be made available for other transport schemes in Wales.  I’ve got a better idea: if the whole of the money saved by not electrifying the line is available for spending on transport schemes in Wales, why don’t we spend it on electrifying the line between Cardiff and Swansea?  Because, at its simplest, if the cash is available, why not spend it as originally planned?
It wasn’t a lack of money which, allegedly, drove the decision to cancel this part of the electrification project, but an analysis of the cost-benefit ratio, which concluded that the scheme was not good value for money, using the criteria laid down by the government itself.  But whether those criteria are valid or not is ultimately a question of judgement.  They are based, broadly, on a comparison between the cost of doing the work and the value of the time saved by passengers; but given the well-known problems of the railway line west of Cardiff, the time savings were always going to be minimal for that section of track.  It’s much harder to put hard cash values on other benefits of the scheme, such as increased reliability and reduced environmental costs - both from moving away from diesel and attracting more traffic from the roads.
However, the idea that money, once allocated to a scheme in Wales, should be available for other schemes in Wales if the original scheme is cancelled is one with which I’m hardly going to disagree.  The logic of that, though, is that the money and the responsibility should have been allocated to Wales in the first place.  Then we could have decided whether to electrify or not.  The strangest part of all in the story from Westminster is that the man demanding the money comes to Wales anyway is historically one of those most opposed to devolving extra responsibilities to Wales.  Still, he’s a Tory – logic and consistency are not to be expected.

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