I agree with David TC Davies. That is not a phrase you will hear me say very often, but just for once he is right – strictly speaking.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about how Wales has suffered due to the grossly unfair way in which the HS2 project has been classified as an Englandandwales project, with Welsh taxpayers forced to fund England’s shiny new (and massively overbudget) trainset – with zero direct benefit accruing to Wales, despite some very dubious claimed indirect benefits.
Meanwhile Scottish taxpayers, while receiving direct transport benefits to the West Coast lines, also receive a financial benefit in the form of ‘Barnett Consequentials’. If Wales had been treated in the same way as Scotland, we would have received around £5 billion in additional funding from HS2 alone.
Now, the story has been raised again, this time in relation to the Northern Powerhouse Rail project – where Wales is being forced to again contribute to the £19 billion project, effectively losing out on an another £1 billion in funding.
Whether we like it or not railway infrastructure in Wales is not devolved – unlike in Scotland. Any rail infrastructure whether in England OR Wales* is treated as an England AND Wales project. Everything goes into and out of the same pot – and there is no point in our politicians arguing whether a particular project benefits Wales – it is irrelevant (and this is where David TC Davies is correct).
As long as our politicians are arguing about whether a particular project benefits Wales or what Barnett consequentials we should be receiving, they are giving the UK Government an easy pass – it is a technical argument that cannot be won – and most people wouldn’t understand anyway.
The argument that our politicians should be making today is that for as long as rail is not devolved then we should be receiving a fair share of investment. On a population basis we should receive around 6% of Network Rail investment – yet we are actually receiving less than 1%.
To put this in perspective, Network Rail budgets on a 5 year program, known as a Control Period (CP). They are currently starting CP7 (running from 2024-2030) which has a budgeted investment program of £44 billion. This does include some projects in Wales including Barmouth Bridge replacement and some signaling improvements west of Swansea, with the total planned investment in Wales in this period of around £250 million. This sounds a lot – until you calculate that our fair share of investment for this period would be more than £2.5 billion. That buys a lot of rail infrastructure.
The UK Government is systematically starving Wales of investment and this is the point we should be driving home. What is the benefit of the precious Union if it is making us poorer every year?
And some of our politicians should take a long hard look in the mirror before they criticize these arrangements – In preparing the Government in Wales Act 2006, the UK Labour Government offered their Welsh puppets devolution of the railways. But they declined the offer, presumably because they would have to take some responsibility. In doing so they have made Wales poorer by up to £1 billion/year.