TfW am­bi­tion scaled back

Cynon Valley - - FRONT PAGE - RHODRI CLARK Re­porter [email protected]­

THE Welsh Gov­ern­ment has scaled back its am­bi­tions for Trans­port for Wales fol­low­ing ma­jor dis­rup­tion to pas­sen­gers un­der new train op­er­a­tor TfW Rail Ser­vices.

THE Welsh Gov­ern­ment has scaled back its am­bi­tions for Trans­port for Wales fol­low­ing ma­jor dis­rup­tion to pas­sen­gers un­der new train op­er­a­tor TfW Rail Ser­vices.

The Welsh Gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished TfW in 2015 as its own trans­port com­pany, say­ing it wanted TfW to be­come like Trans­port for Lon­don, which pro­cures and man­ages bus ser­vices in Lon­don through fran­chise con­tracts.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Ken Skates put flesh on the bones last Jan­uary, telling the Senedd that the pub­lic trans­port net­work – buses and trains – “will be in­creas­ingly di­rectly owned or op­er­ated by Trans­port for Wales”.

How­ever, TfW is not men­tioned in the Welsh Gov­ern­ment’s re­cently pub­lished White Pa­per on how buses will be op­er­ated in the fu­ture.

The doc­u­ment is al­most 16,000 words long and ex­plains how the Welsh Gov­ern­ment plans to leg­is­late for bus fran­chis­ing in Wales, where bus ser­vices have been dereg­u­lated since 1986.

The White Pa­per says it will be up to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to de­cide whether to in­tro­duce bus fran­chises.

Even the rel­a­tively sim­ple task of de­vel­op­ing stan­dard­ised bus shel­ters for Wales is not now re­garded as a job for TfW.

The White Pa­per says this would be “de­liv­ered through a JTA struc­ture” in “the long run” – re­fer­ring to its new plan to cre­ate a Joint Trans­port Au­thor­ity cov­er­ing the whole of Wales.

The JTA pro­posal has come out of the blue, hav­ing not fea­tured in the Welsh Gov­ern­ment’s pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions on re­forms to buses, taxis and pri­vate hire ve­hi­cles (PHVs).

The JTA would “ad­dress the chal­lenges faced by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties” af­ter fund­ing and staffing cuts.

TfW’s ca­reer in pro­vid­ing pub­lic trans­port be­gan in Oc­to­ber, when the £5bn Wales and Bor­ders rail con­tract re­placed the Ar­riva Trains Wales fran­chise. TfW pro­cured the con­tract on be­half of the Welsh Gov­ern­ment.

TfW Rail Ser­vices suf­fered mount­ing prob­lems with the age­ing train fleet and can­celled many ser­vices in the au­tumn.

From Novem­ber 11 to De­cem­ber 8, 4.5% of its trains were ei­ther can­celled or more than 30 min­utes late, com­pared with 3.7% in the same pe­riod a year ear­lier. Punc­tu­al­ity was also worse than un­der ATW.

AMs held Mr Skates ac­count­able, grilling him in the Senedd and in an Assem­bly com­mit­tee. This was a new de­par­ture, be­cause the pre­vi­ous ATW fran­chise was a UK Gov­ern­ment cre­ation. Min­is­ters ap­pear to have sidestepped sim­i­lar ques­tion­ing over fu­ture prob­lems with bus ser­vices by di­lut­ing or aban­don­ing the plan for TfW to own or op­er­ate the pub­lic trans­port net­work.

Asked why TfW was omit­ted from the White Pa­per, a Welsh Gov­ern­ment spokes­woman said: “The White Pa­per is about lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and Welsh min­is­ters hav­ing ad­di­tional pow­ers to bet­ter con­trol buses, taxis and pri­vate hire ve­hi­cles across Wales.

“TfW’s role in de­liv­er­ing pub­lic trans­port ser­vices be­yond rail will be­come clearer as we con­sider the re­sponses to the White Pa­per con­sul­ta­tion and fur­ther de­velop the busi­ness cases for bus and taxi/ PHV re­form.”

The White Pa­per’s only sug­ges­tion on bus own­er­ship is for coun­cils to have pow­ers to run their own ser­vices – as some do un­der cur­rent leg­is­la­tion – or to set up their own arm’slength bus com­pa­nies.

The pow­ers could be ex­er­cised where pri­vate bus com­pa­nies are un­in­ter­ested in ten­der­ing for sub­sidised ser­vices.

The fran­chis­ing pro­pos­als are mod­elled on new pow­ers which the UK Gov­ern­ment gave in 2017 to English metro may­ors – whose city re­gions cover large conur­ba­tions and mul­ti­ple lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Wales’ White Pa­per says: “It is con­sid­ered es­sen­tial that the

lo­cal au­thor­ity con­sults on any pro­posal to fran­chise lo­cal ser­vices to al­low for pub­lic scru­tiny of the pro­posal.

“It will be for the fran­chis­ing au­thor­ity to de­ter­mine how they con­tract for the fran­chised ser­vices, bear­ing in mind the fund­ing avail­able to them and their ob­jec­tives.”

It ap­pears that the Welsh Gov­ern­ment will de­vote time to leg­is­lat­ing for new pow­ers which coun­cils have al­ready in­di­cated they are un­likely to use.

When the Welsh Gov­ern­ment con­sulted on the sub­ject ahead of the White Pa­per, the Welsh Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion – rep­re­sent­ing all 22 uni­tary au­thor­i­ties – re­sponded: “We re­main to be per­suaded whether new leg­is­la­tion is re­quired to solve the prob­lems fac­ing the sec­tor.

“In­creased and re­fo­cused fund­ing, to­gether with an in­creased ca­pac­ity in lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, would go a long way to ad­dress­ing many of the is­sues raised in the WG con­sul­ta­tion


A train in the new Trans­port for Wales colour scheme

Econ­omy and Trans­port Min­is­ter Ken Skates

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