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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The green agenda

In his blog today Adam Price MP says that "The beauty of being-in-government is that ideas can become reality, and that reality in turn reshapes our ideas." He is not wrong. Since entering government Plaid Cymru have changed their mind on a number of key policies, voting against them in Plenary.

Those u-turns, on local income tax, nuclear power, proportional voting for local government and ID cards, have not come about because these policies are impractical but because of a sense of misplaced loyalty to their Labour partners.

In seeking to understand Plaid Cymru's latest dilemma we need to remember some of their history. Ever since Cynog Dafis took Ceredigion in partnership with the Greens, the nationalists have sought to portray themselves as a pro-environment party. Unfortunately, that image has not survived their first brush with power.

As Transport Minister, Plaid Cymru's leader is supporting plans to turn the A494 in North Wales into an effective motorway, he is promoting the M4 extension around Newport through the Gwent levels and five SSSIs and he also personally supports nuclear power. Now the Western Mail has highlighted another failure on the part of the Assembly's sustainability agenda, the lack of support for local bus services.

They tell us that bus passengers face service cuts and higher fares because the Welsh Government is adding 10% to fuel bills. Two Pembrokeshire services have already been axed while fares in North-East Wales have twice increased by 8% in three months. The problem is that fuel duty is increasing by 4p per litre, spread over two stages – last October and in April this year. English bus operators were compensated for the 2p rise last autumn, but the Welsh Government decided to withhold the rebate that is payable to public transport operators to offset this tax in Wales. The paper outlines some of the consequences of this action:

Stagecoach in South Wales, which operates across Gwent and the Valleys, said the first 2p rise would add £175,000 to its fuel bill over a year.

Swansea-based First Cymru said the rise would cost it more than £190,000, which would double with April’s rise.

“It will cost operators millions of pounds, if you add up across Wales,” said Justin Davies, First Cymru’s managing director.

His company would have to raise fares or withdraw services.

“At a time when we’re trying to promote public transport and I think the WAG is trying to produce a transport policy, it seems to be perverse to be tipping over in the opposite direction.”

The WAG’s fuel-price increase could hit rural areas especially. Richards Brothers, which operates 65 buses in Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, has already withdrawn local services and will look for other potential savings.

“We’ve cut back two journeys in the evening in Fishguard, because of the rising costs,” said partner Malcolm Richards.

Lewis y Llan, which provides council-funded buses across rural Anglesey, could surrender contracts and cancel services.

Managing director Tony Lewis, whose fuel bill stands to rise by £7,000 a year, said, “We worked out a price and our profit margin for the contracts. We expected the fuel duty to be constant.”

Gareth Davies of Wrexham- based GHA Coaches said, “In the past the rebate has gone up automatically, and 2p on a litre makes a lot of difference.

“The only way to claw that back is to put the fares up, which is a last resort because it can scare passengers away. We’ve had to put them up twice in the last three months, by 8% each time, just for the diesel costs.

“The more the fares go up, the more the average fare goes up and the more the WAG have to pay out on the free passes.

“Passengers are the ones who will lose out. They will pay more and services could be cut.”
John Gould, managing director of Stagecoach in South Wales, said the situation was unprecedented. “This is why operators haven’t anticipated the extra cost. We may have to bring forward our September fares rise.”

What makes the decision even more perverse is the fact that the Welsh Government themselves will take a hit, paying more for pensioners’ free travel under a formula based on average bus fares. These are not the actions of a green minister.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem controlled Swansea Council plans to re-open a landfill site at St Thomas whilst delaying its waste management strategy.
There are very good reasons why Swansea has not been able to také forward its waste management strategy, most are outside of the Council's control.The Council had no choice but to resume using Tir John because like many other Councils it still needs to také stuff to landfill. However our recycling rates have doubled in the last five years and we continue to move in the right direction including a massive investment in public transport. in contrast to that progress Plaid have performed a u-turn.
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