Tuesday, 17 July 2012
The hype that surrounded the relaunch of the electrification of railways in Wales had more to do with coalition politics than with transport policy.
Of course it’s good for Wales to have electric trains. At the present we’re in a group of three with Moldova and Albania, as the only countries in Europe without electric trains. Indeed it is well over due.
Having just looked at the Welsh transport infrastructure for a programme on the Welsh economy that will be shown in the Autumn. The common theme that comes from many contributors is that the Welsh transport infrastructure is a drag on our economy.
Roads, rails and airplanes in Wales are not fit for purpose. And even some of our ports need upgrading if they are to cope with the lucrative cruise trade.
But back to yesterdays announcement on the railways. Just in case you missed it, this electrifying of the line to Cardiff is been announced for the third time.
It was Gordon Brown’s transport minister Lord Adonis who first made the announcement in 2009. Then the new transport secretary Philip Hammond announced the electrification as far as Cardiff. Yesterday saw the latest and perhaps the final announcement on the South Wales lines with Swansea and the Valleys ear marked for electrification. But recycling announcements is nothing new. They all do it.
North Wales continues to be the cinderella of Wales when it comes to railways. The main line from Euston to Holyhead will continue to be served by diesel. And even lines in North East Wales that are used to access Liverpool, Chester and Manchester will remain without a mile of electric track.
But before to much excitement is generated on the announcement it should be noted that there will be nothing done for two years. The coalition’s announcement made it clear that the £9.4 billion expenditure will not be occurred until 2014 to 2019. This will be financed by ticket prices increasing above the rate of inflation. There will be no new public money.
But the political reason for the launch is to boost the foundering Westminster coalition.
Cameron and Clegg need to be seen to be taking an initiative on the economy. When the coalition was launched in the Rose garden behind Downing Street. There was an expectation that the policy of cuts would deal the country’s large deficit. The economy would grow again when the private sector took up the cudgels. Oh how they wish.
Instead of growth the Chancellor has engineered that public investment is plummeting from 3.4% of GDP in 2009-10 towards a forecast 1.1% in 2016-17.
George Osborne’s policies has seen the country in a double dip and perhaps facing a treble dip recession. The IMF have been slashing its forecast for the UK. Every day more and more are realising the ineptitude of the Chancellor. And this is the man in charge of the Conservative Party’s political strategy.
Much needed though the expenditure on the railways is, standing up in Solihull in front of trains ain’t going to mend the economy or even mend what looks increasingly as a fractious coalition government.
The chances are that the coalition will crawl to the destination of the general election. But it will do so because both leaders have looked at the polls and know that going to the country sooner will likely mean a massive rejection by the voters. They hang together for fear of hanging separately.