Responsibility? ... No thanks

I read with interest the interview with Gareth Jones on rail infrastructure investment in today's Western Mail; in particular the differences between Wales and Scotland, as outlined in these extracts:

Unlike in Scotland, the Welsh Assembly Government does not have direct statutory control over Network Rail’s activities.

As part of the Railway Act 2005, devolved responsibility for specifying the outputs from Network Rail – a not for dividend company that owns and manages the UK’s rail network – passed to the Scottish Government, coupled with a transfer of funding from the Department for Transport. This in 2008-09 was £324m – or 11.7% of Network Rail’s UK operation, maintenance and renewal activities.

The arrangement in Scotland is allowing it to support more than £1bn of rail investment in the next five to 10 years through Network Rail’s own financial borrowing powers. While it has a healthy settlement in its block grant it is also directing more funding into rail from its overall budget – around £600m a year until 2014.


Even with the “high levels” of investment in Wales being claimed, it still would appear that the £200m quoted by Network Rail for 2009-2010, and an assumed steady investment to 2015, only provides £1bn against the £34bn for the UK as a whole over the next controlled spending period. This is 3%, despite the fact that Wales has 5% of the UK population.

Western Mail, 16 March 2011

I'm actually quite pleased to see these figures, for I remember reading that Wales received only 2.5% or 3% of Network Rail's spending, but then couldn't find the source to link to it. The figures confirm that we are losing out on maybe £135m of rail infrastructure spending each year.

But I was much more concerned by this statement:

Back in 2005 the Welsh Assembly was offered a devolved settlement on rail alongside Scotland, but it was rejected. It is understood that WAG officials had some concerns over a transfer of liabilities.

Mr Jones, who stands down as an AM in May, said : “It was a missed opportunity [devolution of rail spend], but I think it should come around again in view of the situation we find ourselves and the comparison we made with the Scottish model.”

Now I wasn't particularly active in politics in 2005, so I don't remember the circumstances, and I'd be grateful to anyone who could point me in the right direction. Yet it seems incomprehensible to me why the then Welsh Government rejected this opportunity. £135m a year over the last six years alone would have resulted in an additional £800m of rail investment in Wales. To put that in perspective, it would probably have been enough to electrify the north coast line to Holyhead.

I can't help but think that the Labour party in Wales seems to have an inbuilt reluctance to take financial responsibility ... and it's costing us dear.

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Owen said...

That extra 2-2.5% is money that could no longer be spent on English railways. Can't have that can we. Especially as the UK Labour party promised big rail infrastructure projects there.

Remember by building Crossrail and a new Reading station we're actually helping ourselves.

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