Minister says bus services “are broken”; directs people to white paper consultation

(Title Image: South Wales Argus)

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s economy questions.

Economic Plan 2019

Starting off, Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) asked about the economic plans for the government in the year ahead. He was concerned that for all the talk of new plans, there was very little actually being done.

Not true, said the Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South). Up to 100 businesses have signed the Welsh Government’s new economic contract.

Russell George wanted something specific and the Minister pointed to three areas: work to help business through Brexit, the new economic contract and the creation of regional units to promote economic growth in specific areas.

Anchors away?

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) mentioned “anchor companies” and how they were defined.

The Minister said that a review of the definition of an anchor company is underway. Large businesses represent 0.6% of all active businesses in Wales compared to the UK’s 0.1%.

In light of a string of bad news affecting current and potential large employers, “Were these anchor’s slipping?” asked Rhun. It was a matter of efficiency said the Minister:

“Anchors aren’t slipping, necessarily. Let’s take Airbus as a perfect example. They’re becoming far more efficient, and Airbus has approximately 6,000 employees in Broughton. It’s about the same that it had six years ago, but what’s changed between 2013 and 2019 is that the site has become about 40% more efficient….that sort of efficiency drive has to take place right across all businesses if they’re to succeed and strive in the fourth industrial revolution—the age of digitisation, artificial intelligence and automation.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

The Minister then echoed what he said yesterday about the Ford engine plant in Bridgend.

Bus services “are broken”

David Rees AM (Lab, Aberavon) asked for a statement on bus services in the Fan Valley area (though it turned into a general discussion on bus services).

“….for people who haven’t got transport and who have to access services, whether it’s employment or maybe elderly people who need to go to hospital services 10 miles down the road to Neath Port Talbot Hospital, they may spend all day travelling and getting there to get back in for maybe a half-an-hour appointment. Now, these are challenging times. I’ve written to the bus company who seem to focus mainly on commercial activities.”
– David Rees AM

The Minister said the recent white paper on bus services – more here – aims to deal with many of the issues affecting bus services and there was a fundamental flaw in the current system because the Welsh Government and councils can’t require a bus company to run a particular service.

Suzy Davies AM (Con, South Wales West) asked whether the Minister was confident councils were ring-fencing 5% of their trust budget for community transport as set out in guidance. Bethan Sayed AM (Plaid, South Wales West) asked what assurances people would have that the proposals in the white paper would actually lead to improved services.

The Minister wasn’t confident the 5% guidance was being followed by all councils. He invited all AMs to made submissions to the white paper consultation, which is due to close in March. As mentioned earlier a summary of the proposals is available here.

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