FMQs: Staying on Track



Yesterday’s announcement regarding the details of the new Wales & Borders rail franchise and South Wales Metro dominated proceedings.

FMQs, 5th June 2018

Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West): New Rail Franchise

The rail franchise plans were “very promising” and demonstrated what a public-private partnership can achieve. Caroline focused on north Wales, particularly efforts to prevent cancellations along the Conwy Valley line. There was little in the announcement about accessibility for the disabled; 61 stations are deemed poorly accessible. Also, will the new trains be built with Welsh steel?

The First Minister said structural issues in the Conwy Valley mean it regularly floods. There’ll be better services along every line in Wales, with £15million announced for accessibility improvements. The use of Welsh steel will be “encouraged”, as is current policy.

Verdict: Miss – There were announcements on accessibility and Caroline failed to take the First Minister to task over the Conwy Valley (which wasn’t mentioned in the announcement at all). Fish in a barrel.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda): A “Not-for-Profit” Rail Franchise & Labour’s 2016 Manifesto

There’s been talk of a 3% cap on profits, but it’s not much of a cap as the average profit for an operating company is 2.9%. Keolis-Amey is likely to make between £100-150million over the course of the franchise – money which could be reinvested in services. In their 2016 manifesto, Labour promised to create a not-for-profit rail operator – “you’ve failed and have done the exact opposite”, lumbering Wales with a private rail network for 15 years.

The Scotland Act 2016 contained clauses to enable Scotland to set up a public sector rail company but there was no such clause in the Wales Act 2017.

The First Minister said the anticipated £150million profit was less than Arriva’s current £185million profit. The investment is something to be proud of and he was surprised Plaid Cymru was so eager to “talk down Wales”; this is going to be an excellent rail service “good value, new trains, air conditioned….no cast-offs”. He wasn’t happy with elements of the last Wales Act, but it’s better than “jumping off a cliff edge to see what happens” (Wales is barred from setting up a publicly-owned rail company).

Verdict: Block – The franchise is clearly a breach of Labour’s election manifesto, but I don’t think anyone’s going to care if the vision is seen through. If it isn’t seen through, though…..

Leader of the Opposition, Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central): The “People’s Vote” & Cabinet Collective Responsibility*

Two Cabinet members – Kirsty Williams and Alun Davies – recently signed a letter calling for a second referendum on Brexit (aka. “A People’s Vote). Andrew assumed the Welsh Government operated on cabinet collective responsibility, but it appears Secretaries and Ministers are running their own agendas. Does one rule apply to backbenchers (Jenny Rathbone was removed as a Committee chair for speaking out against the Newport bypass) and another to Cabinet members?

The First Minister confirmed there’s no Welsh Government position on a second Brexit referendum, though in his personal view a second referendum “has little merit” with any deal approved by the parliaments of the UK. If people want to see a lame duck leader, look at the UK Government; the likes of Boris Johnson openly criticise the Prime Minister and UK Cabinet ministers have campaigned against official government policy on Heathrow runway 3.

Verdict: Miss – Andrew has been on a roll in FMQs for some time, but this one has to be handed to Carwyn; if the Welsh Government doesn’t have a position on a “People’s Vote” then collective responsibility* presumably doesn’t apply.

*For the unfamiliar, Cabinet Collective Responsibility is the unwritten rule which means that individual members of a government have to publicly support all decisions made in Cabinet or resign.

Backbenchers

I’m only going to focus on two questions, asked jointly, on the rail franchise because a few extra details were revealed that haven’t been previously covered.

Neil McEvoy AM (Ind, South Wales Central) & Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West): Will the First Minister make a statement on the Wales and Borders rail franchise?

In summary, the First Minister said:

  • The Welsh Government’s “first preference” would’ve been a not-for-profit rail company but this was ruled out by law in the UK Parliament.
  • There’ll be a guard on every train following talks with rail unions.
  • CAF (based at Newport) will develop the new long-distance trains though he didn’t say who would build the Metro tram-trains (it’s rumoured to be Swiss company, Stadler).
  • Discussions will be held with Merseyrail to enable trains to travel into Liverpool city centre via the Mersey tunnel (from Wrexham Central via Bidston).
  • Keolis-Amey won’t be able to get out of its obligations by running fewer or no trains (cancelled trains usually don’t count in punctuality statistics).
  • A bus service will link Barry to Cardiff Airport as part of the Metro from 2024.
  • There’s an expectation that passenger numbers will rise (the previous contract was based on zero-growth).

Verdict: Miss – Straightforward questions, straightforward answers.

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