Senedd Bites #8: Auf Wiedersehen, Arriva

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Arriva withdraws bid to run next Welsh rail franchise

One of biggest stories over the fortnight – obvious exceptions aside – has been Arriva Trains Wales (owned by Deutsche Bahn) withdrawing its bid to run the next Wales & Borders rail franchise. That leaves MTR, Abellio and KeolisAmey in the running.

The Welsh Government moved to calm observers by saying it’s normal for bids to be withdrawn. I would, however, say it’s unusual for the current train operator to pull out at such a relatively late stage.

With all the problems over the devolution of the necessary powers and finance by the UK Government, the first conclusion would be that the process is turning into a bungle.

It may, stress may, be good news.

When Arriva won the franchise they did so on the basis they wouldn’t be contractually obliged to make any investment in the service at all. They’ve made a pure profit every year since then and have worked miracles with an ageing and completely inadequate fleet.

Maybe they’ve seen something in the bid specification, or been told something, that’s spooked them (i.e. they’ll have to commit to new rolling stock or a big investment in infrastructure). That would mean the three remaining bidders are still up for it while Arriva – who’ve had a relatively easy ride to date – have decided to cut their losses.

Six Welsh towns & cities breach air pollution guidelines

Cardiff, Swansea, Port Talbot, Newport, Chepstow and Wrexham all have air pollution levels above World Health Organisation guidelines according to a report in The Lancet.

Some of this isn’t exactly news – particularly in the case of Newport and Port Talbot – but it’s been estimated an extra 2,000 deaths in Wales each year are as a result of air pollution. Road traffic is believed to be the main culprit, particularly diesel vehicles (though Port Talbot also has the steelworks to contend with).

Welsh Lib Dems elect new leader

Montgomeryshire-based Jane Dodds was elected the new Welsh Lib Dem leader on 3rd November with 53.1% over her rival Elizabeth Evans.

Jane takes over from acting leader – Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) – who can’t take on the role full-time despite being the party’s only senior elected representative in Wales because of her position in government.

To say Jane has a tough task ahead to rebuild her party is an understatement.

No change to Welsh Labour leadership rules

Welsh Labour will retain the existing electoral college – which gives equal weight to votes by members, trade unions and elected members – when the next leadership election is held.

Until the events of the past week there’ve been no suggestions Carwyn Jones has been thinking of standing down yet, but when the time comes it will probably make it much harder for a Corbynite to get elected, as Corbyn’s election and re-election at a UK level was almost a direct result of the then newly-introduced one-member, one-vote system.

Plaid Cymru demands Welsh Brexit impact study publication

Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda), wrote to the First Minister asking for the Welsh Government to publish its assessment of the possible economic impacts of Brexit.

The UK Government have already lost a vote in the House of Commons to publish similar information. The UK Government were reluctant to release them because they believed it would undermine their negotiating stance. During that process it was claimed there was no specific Wales-only paper, prompting the Plaid demand.

The Welsh Government say all available information has already been published, but Plaid Cymru are pressing for it to be published and collated in a single report.