Jones versus Jones: political spat could derail Welsh electrification
A war of words has erupted between London and Cardiff about who is to fund electrification of the Welsh Valleys lines. The £305m project, which includes the Cardiff to Bridgend section of the South Wales main line to Swansea, as well as many other branches, is an extension of the Great Western electrification scheme.
Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones has challenged the UK government to produce evidence that the Welsh government should pay for electrification costs. But his London counterpart, Welsh Secretary David Jones, has hit back claiming that the 2012 agreement reached by their predecessors in both administrations was quite unequivocal:
“It’s quite clear we (the UK government) would be responsible for electrification up to Swansea. We’ve agreed to extend electrification between Bridgend to Swansea – and the section between Cardiff and Bridgend is part of the Valleys Line and it falls within the Wales and Border franchise for which the Welsh government is responsible, and would recover the cost through access charges. I’m appalled that they are now suggesting that we should pay the entire cost.”
His views were endorsed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, and by David Cameron: “It appears that a misunderstanding has arisen that the electrification will be directly funded by the UK government. That never was the case,” said the Prime Minister.
However, a Welsh government spokesperson responded that, “the Welsh government has never agreed to fund the electrification of the Valley Lines because rail infrastructure is not devolved.”
Carwyn Jones said the DfT had “run out of money” and wanted to offload the cost on to Wales. “I am increasingly concerned about UK government drift on this commitment. Network Rail requires a clear commitment on the electrification funding, but the UK government has been slow to provide this.”
Without a clear undertaking it is feared that Network Rail may put the project on hold or stop work altogether.
Analysts think that the Welsh government will have to recoup electrification costs through higher subsidy payments to the new Wales & Border franchise (for which it would be responsible), or by increasing fares. Neither option would be popular.
Calls have been made for the 2012 correspondence between former Transport Minister, Justine Greening, and her Welsh counterpart, Carl Sergeant, to me made public. Until that happens the confusion is likely to continue.