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Monday 31 July 2017

Senedd Watch - July 2017

This is the final "Senedd Watch" post - and my final post relating to Welsh politics on Oggy Bloggy Ogwr - before I launch Senedd Home in September. While this has never been the most read feature, I know it's useful to some people. There'll be an equivalent of this on Senedd Home, but at the moment I intend for it to be a weekly update instead of monthly. State of Wales will be launching this evening, so keep an eye out for that.

Saturday 22 July 2017

End of Term Report 2016/17

As is tradition, here's my verdict on how the Welsh Government and opposition leaders have performed in the first year of the Fifth Assembly.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Cardiff-Swansea electrification zapped by UK Government

Rail electrification between Cardiff & Swansea (including Bridgend) was promised by a Conservative-led government in 2012. Five years later they've scrapped it.

I'm not surprised as we've been softened up for this news. It's happened the same week the first round of contracts (worth £6.6billion) for the (estimated) £56billion High Speed 2 project in England – to which Wales will be paying our share of at least £2.7billion – were announced.

The Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, slimed his way through the issue earlier this week by talking up the benefits of the new trains. You know what contempt rail passengers are held in when the replacement of 40+-year-old trains that are frequently overcrowded during rush hour is seen as a gift instead of a basic necessity.

Alun clearly knew what was coming, but there's been dishonesty and shadow playing on this from the start. Extending electrification from Cardiff to Swansea is something the Conservatives were reluctantly talked into by the Lib Dems in 2012. They've never really wanted to do it, having wrangled over who was going to pay for it and dragging their feet. It was even omitted from their 2017 manifesto, which should've set alarm bells ringing.

The English transport secretary, Chris Grayling (who also has responsibility for rail infrastructure in Wales), argues the benefits of electrification can be delivered with the new Hitachi intercity express trains, coming into service in south Wales later this year. Fortunately, the new trains are both electric and diesel powered meaning they can run on tracks without overhead lines.

This also means they're more expensive to build, heavier, more things can go wrong with them, are less environmentally-friendly and noisier. That means higher maintenance costs for the track, inefficient engines, no real difference in journey times between Swansea and Cardiff, as much noise as's almost as if there'll be absolutely no difference to things as they are now.

It's a typical solution of a government, party and nation-state that does everything by spreadsheets, divorced from both how things work on the ground and long-term thinking.

Hitachi has built a new maintenance facility in Swansea for the new trains. If you've gone past it recently you will have noticed it's come complete with the infrastructure for overhead power lines. They're going to get rusty.

Electrification between Cardiff and London is still going ahead, but you've got to wonder – with the current state the UK Government's in – what other plans they have in store for us. As Prof. Stuart Cole has argued, this project can't simply be restarted if the expertise and resources are moved. If it's scrapped now it's unlikely anything will happen for a long time; in 15-20 years when we're still talking about this we'll wonder, "Why didn't we do something back in the 2010s?"

I suppose the only question is why has it been scrapped?

We haven't been told because the Conservatives know we won't like the answer: the money and resources for electrifying Cardiff-Swansea are needed in England.

The budget for current electrification work has over-run and if the UK Government are going to deliver pledges in parts of England, "less important" projects need to be ditched.

On an EnglandandWales scale, this is an easy to write-off project between two small provincial cities and should be placed behind the likes of Bath, Liverpool and Manchester. It also means some English cities miss out, like Nottingham and Sheffield - so it's not just Wales being left behind.

At a Welsh level, it's about providing electrified rail services between the capital, one of the most important industrial centres (Neath Port Talbot & Bridgend) and the country's second and third largest cities (Swansea & Newport respectively), as well as being a springboard for electrification in north Wales. Westminster doesn't see this.

Wales has about 6% of the UK's rail network, yet receives around 1-1.5% of Network Rail funding. Scotland gets a population-based share because rail infrastructure is devolved. It isn't devolved here because if Wales received a ring-fenced 4.9% share of UK rail spending, it would mean less money to spend in England London.

As they've significantly underestimated the costs involved, yet again Network Rail's bungling will hamper a major infrastructure project in Wales. It doesn't bode well for the new Wales & Borders rail franchise, Metro, north Wales electrification and pretty much any significant project you can think of either.

Network Rail is really good at putting new shelters in stations, painting lines, fixing bridges and installing new signalling, but beyond that, they're not looking fit for purpose when it comes to running Welsh railways.

The first rule of politics is "Don't make promises you can't keep", but that doesn't seem to apply here. So we've been lied to and let down again. The most depressing thing is you know we're going to sit back and take it because we've got no cards to play and we're used to it.

I can't wait to see what happens with the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon! Fingers crossed!

Tuesday 18 July 2017

FMQs: RIFW Redux, Tuition Fees & Parking Fines

The final FMQs of the 2016-17 Assembly term took place this afternoon and it's also the final FMQs covered on this site.

Thursday 13 July 2017

Growing Pains: Senedd demands specialist arthritis service

(Pic :

Arthritis is perhaps stereotyped as an "old person's disease" caused by joint wear and tear, but there are a number of arthritis and arthritis-like conditions that can strike at any age such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, lupus and fibromyalgia.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

FMQs: Mind Your Language

The penultimate FMQs of the 2016-17 term, and although there's still a lot of heat being generated on the Circuit of Wales saga (yet again) it's not generating much light at the moment but that might soon be about to change.

Saturday 8 July 2017

Right to Buy ban "needs explaining"

(Pic: The Guardian)

The Communities Committee published their Stage One report on the Abolition of Right to Buy Bill yesterday (pdf). In summary, their recommendations were that:

Tuesday 4 July 2017

FMQs: Abortions, Smoking & Sport

Another summary of FMQs from the Senedd.

Sunday 2 July 2017

Senedd committee calls for more medical school places

(Pic : BBC Wales)
Medicine is already one of the most competitive and academically-demanding university courses. On top of that it's becoming a struggle for Wales to recruit and train tomorrow's doctors – subject to an inquiry by the Health & Social Care Committee (pdf).

Saturday 1 July 2017

Welsh rail franchise & Metro: Still on track?

The current franchise to run passenger trains in Wales and English border counties – presently held by Arriva Trains Wales – expires in October 2018. For the first time, the Welsh Government will award the new franchise, which will include the South Wales Metro.