Minister confident there’ll be no repeat of 2018’s train chaos

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

Here’s a summary of this afternoon’s questions to Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South).

Reliable rail?

With high-profile issues on Welsh rail services making headlines in the last few weeks (namely a lack of carriages), Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), expressed his, and rail passengers’, frustration. Aspirations are all well and good, but people expect and deserve a reliable rail service now.

Transport for Wales’ performance over the summer was poor; only 61% of trains on the Cambrian Line arrive on time. With autumn coming, how confident was the Minister that there would be no repeat of last year’s chaos?

The Minister accepted that rail services aren’t without faults but this was a legacy resulting from years of under-investment – signalling equipment was blamed for Cambrian punctuality problems, which is Network Rail’s responsibility. An £800million order for new trains and tram-trains has been put in which will deal with capacity problems in the longer term.

He was also confident that there’ll be no repeat of last year’s “wheel-flat” problem which saw scores of trains taken out of action:

“I’m pleased to be able to say to Members today that those trains that were not fitted with wheel-side protection kits last year, which were not operating as a consequence of that or which did suffer from wheel-side protection, now have that vital kit applied to them.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Industry 4.0

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) focused on a recently-published report on the fourth industrial revolution, with a clear warning on the possible impact of automation:

“….too many Welsh companies are locked into low-value parts of worldwide chains and that there’s little scope for higher-value roles in areas like research and development and international procurement….the Welsh workforce, as a result, will be exposed to quality-cost competition as companies seek to automate less valuable parts of their chains.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

The Minister accepted that the report presents some hefty challenges for the Welsh economy. Individual learning accounts are being rolled out which will help the workforce identify skills gaps and apply for financial help towards retraining in preparation for automation and new roles that might be created.

There are also other examples of investment in preparation for Industry 4.0 such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre at Deeside, which could generate £3billion for the economy.

Brexit Party AM worried about post-Brexit tariff war

David Rowlands AM (BXP, South Wales East) said that the German economy was stagnating due to its reliance on multinational corporations and he asked whether the Minister agreed that if there was a “ludicrous tariff war” after a No Deal Brexit, Germany would come off far worse than the UK?

The Minister didn’t believe a low-growth economy was necessarily a bad thing as long as it’s sustained; in many cases it’s better than boom-and-bust. We should be more worried about the UK’s economy, not Germany’s.

David Rowlands then turned attention to the Italian economy. Following a conversation with an Italian bartender, he suggested there was growing discontent towards the EU within Italy due to a lack of well-paid jobs and commercial opportunities, which compared unfavourably to the job opportunities and pay levels in the UK.

But the Minister wasn’t so sure Italy was a good comparison:

“If we look at the Italian economy, we’ll see similar trends there as the UK. You have some high-performing regions within Italy, primarily in the north, and then you have parts of Italy that are really struggling where young, talented people feel that they have no choice but to leave, and they’re primarily in the south.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

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