Rail pow­ers may not be de­volved un­til 2018

South Wales Echo - - NEWS -

A FOR­MAL call for ten­ders to run the Wales and Bor­ders rail fran­chise will be made to­day – although the Welsh and UK gov­ern­ments are still at log­ger­heads over fu­ture fund­ing.

It’s likely that the power to award the fran­chise to one of four ex­pected bid­ders will not now be trans­ferred from West­min­ster to Cardiff un­til 2018.

As a con­se­quence, the fran­chise may of­fi­cially be awarded by the Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port rather than by the Welsh Gov­ern­ment – although the Welsh Gov­ern­ment will ac­tu­ally make the de­ci­sion as an agent of West­min­ster.

The new fran­chise, re­plac­ing the one cur­rently run by Ar­riva Trains Wales, is due to start in Oc­to­ber next year.

But there has been a huge row be­tween the two gov­ern­ments over fund­ing.

The UK Gov­ern­ment has been ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to “re­nege” on a deal and “strip out” £1bn of in­vest­ment from Welsh rail­ways over 15 years.

But Trans­port Sec­re­tary Chris Grayling in­sists there was never an agree­ment to pro­vide the cash, and sees no ba­sis for the claim.

Si­mon Jones, di­rec­tor of trans­port and ICT in­fra­struc­ture at the Welsh Gov­ern­ment, told AMs: “If you look at the De­part­ment for Trans­port web­site it says that those pow­ers will be trans­ferred at the end of this year.

“Our dis­cus­sions with of­fi­cials are sug­gest­ing that might run into next year.

“We’re go­ing out to ten­der on the back of an agency agree­ment that min­is­ters have signed be­tween here and West­min­ster.

“So this ten­der is on be­half of the Sec­re­tary of State for Trans­port. De­pend­ing on how rapidly they turn the pow­ers around we may end up with an agency agree­ment to award the con­tract as well.”

Con­firm­ing that ten­ders would be sought to­day, Ken Skates, the Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary for Econ­omy and In­fra­struc­ture, said: “We still feel that an agree­ment that was reached in 2014 has not been hon­oured. I feel that it was very clear, the agree­ment that was reached by my pre­de­ces­sor.

“It’s al­ways been my be­lief that the block grant would be un­af­fected as the agree­ment states but it would ap­pear that the view has changed at a UK level.

“He [Mr Grayling] does not agree that the agree­ment in 2014 in­cludes the re­bate of the track ac­cess charge.”

A De­part­ment for Trans­port spokesman said: “We want bet­ter rail ser­vices for peo­ple in Wales and we are committed to giv­ing the Welsh Gov­ern­ment greater con­trol over trains, and will be fi­nal­is­ing ar­range­ments for de­vo­lu­tion over the next few months.”

Labour AM Jeremy Miles said pow­ers were meant to have been de­volved in Jan­uary 2017. He said com­mit­tee ev­i­dence from the De­part­ment for Trans­port “sug­gested to me that the UK Gov­ern­ment had all but washed its hands of re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fran­chise, while at the same time drag­ging its heels on de­volv­ing the pow­ers to the Welsh Gov­ern­ment”.

Plaid Cymru In­fra­struc­ture Spokesper­son Dai Lloyd AM, said: “In­com­pe­tence of the high­est or­der is the only way we can de­scribe this lat­est de­vel­op­ment. Two missed dead­lines have al­ready cost the Welsh tax­payer £3.5m and now we find out that the fran­chise it­self will not be in time for the Welsh Gov­ern­ment to pro­cure it.

“Plaid Cymru has spent the last year warn­ing the Welsh Gov­ern­ment of this im­pend­ing disas­ter. I even tabled an ur­gent ques­tion in the Senedd to which the Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary re­sponded that ev­ery­thing was on track.

“The fact se­nior of­fi­cials are re­fer­ring to the De­part­ment for Trans­port web­site for the lat­est up­dates shows how poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions are be­tween the two gov­ern­ments.

“A £1bn black hole still re­mains due to the Welsh Gov­ern­ment fail­ing to agree the terms of the fran­chise be­fore it started the pro­cure­ment process. They have left the fran­chise in limbo and put the ser­vices we rely on at risk.”

But Ukip AM David Row­lands crit­i­cised UK Gov­ern­ment “in­tran­si­gence” for mak­ing “pro­cure­ment and the fran­chise award in­fin­itely more dif­fi­cult for the Welsh Gov­ern­ment to re­alise its am­bi­tions for rail ser­vices of Wales and the de­liv­ery of the metro”.

Hatti Woakes, sec­re­tary of the North Pem­brokeshire Trans­port Fo­rum, which suc­cess­fully cam­paigned for im­proved rail ser­vices to Fish­guard, said she was con­fi­dent the new fran­chise would be bet­ter for pas­sen­gers.

She said: “There is a huge con­trast be­tween how the last fran­chise was han­dled, and how this one has been.

“Last time, there was very lit­tle public en­gage­ment, and as we know the Welsh Gov­ern­ment was short­changed and had to use its own money to make nec­es­sary im­prove­ments.

“This time, we have been in­volved from the start in feed­ing in ideas about the im­prove­ments we would like.”

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