WALES’ Economy Secretary Ken Skates has confirmed final tenders have been invited for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service, the Welsh Government’s first.
The new rail service will deliver a step-change in the quality of rail travel in Wales. Since January 2017, officials and bidders have been discussing a range of innovative solutions to find those which best meet the needs of people in Wales and the border regions.
Rather than follow the traditional model for procuring a rail service, with the issue of a set specification that companies bid for, this approach has allowed new ideas to be explored and collaborative working relationships to be developed – setting the tone for the new service.
Proposals for the South Wales Metro are being developed alongside the Wales and Borders service to aid development of an integrated transport system in the region. The deadline to submit final tender is December 21.
Economy Secretary, Ken Skates said: “I’m delighted to confirm that Abellio Rail Cymru, Arriva Rail Wales, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd have all been invited to submit final tenders for the next Wales and Borders Rail Service. From rolling stock to frequency of services, Metros to profit thresholds, this final tender will provide the blueprint for what these four giants of the rail industry are bidding to provide Wales.
“Detailed discussions with all four of the shortlisted potential operators have only served to reinforce our optimism that the next service will see big improvements. I look forward to seeing how the detailed tenders tackle our ambitious requirements for the next 15 years before making a decision on the successful operator in early 2018.
“We intend to create a rail service that benefits the whole of Wales, communities along the border and in England. One with passengers at its heart and today’s announcement is another important step towards that.”
In inviting final tender for the franchise, the Economy Secretary provided an update on progress with UK Government on fair funding. He said: “There is will on both sides to ensure that the settlement works for Wales and the Border and, following positive talks, a resolution is near. It’s great news for rail users across Wales that this ensures the services modern Wales expects and have been promised, will be fully delivered.”
Conservative Transport spokesperson, Russell George AM, said: “The Welsh public rightly expects a truly 21st century rail service that puts the passenger first. Commuters should be seeing the new rail service provide access to free Wi-Fi, built to serve the needs of local communities, and achieve high standards in relation to environmental sustainability.
“The experience of the previous franchise was an acute demonstration that it is absolutely vital to ‘get things right’ during the procurement of a major rail operating agreement, particularly to ensure that it delivers for passengers and taxpayers alike over the course of the entire franchise period.
“Welsh Conservatives are adamant the priorities of Welsh passengers should be at the very heart of the new Wales and Borders Rail franchise namely; an agreement that takes into account the commercial realities of expanding passenger numbers over time, and trains that are reliable, cost effective and contain enough seats to accommodate the travelling public.”
Carwyn Jones to step down as row over Sargeant inquiry intensifies
THE FIRST MINISTER of Wales and leader of the Labour Party in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has announced he is to step down from both roles in the autumn.
Carywn Jones, who succeeded Rhodri Morgan as First Minister in 2009, made the announcement at Labour’s Spring Conference in Llandudno earlier today (Saturday, April 21).
Mr Jones was widely expected to step down during the current Assembly, but the timing of his resignation statement has come as a surprise.
Carwyn Jones has exercised power as First Minister for almost nine years in spite of having either no majority or only the slenderest of majorities in the Welsh Assembly. During his period in office he has been embroiled in a number of controversies; however, the last few months of his time in office have been dogged by a series of scandals surrounding the circumstances of the dismissal and subsequent death of former Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.
Mr Sargeant’s dismissal from office was leaked before the official announcement was made, with Llanelli AM Lee Waters revealing that he knew of Mr Sargeant’s sacking before the official announcement. A well-known Welsh journalist was also told of Mr Sargeant’s dismissal before the First Minister met with Mr Sargeant to inform him of it, as were at least two Labour MPs.
Following Mr Sargeant’s sudden death – a few days after his sacking by Mr Jones – a series of awkward questions about due process arose. Mr Sargeant was dismissed without being given the chance to respond to the allegations and the details of the allegations were not made available to him; allegations of leaking of confidential information from sources within the Welsh Government followed; and allegations of a toxic bullying culture at the heart of the Welsh Labour administration, were made.
Although questions regarding those issues focussed on the actions of politically appointed civil servants, those issues cast a long shadow over Carwyn Jones.
Yesterday, solicitors acting for Jack Sargeant, Carl Sargeant’s son who was elected to his late father’s Alyn & Deeside constituency, released a strongly-worded letter which took the Welsh Government to task for continuing delays in setting up an inquiry.
In a subsequent interview, Jack Sargeant’s lawyer – Neil Hudgell – suggested that: ‘[I]t’s been dehumanised within the first minister’s office: there’s some game-playing going on and some deliberate stalling tactics’.
Mr Jones acknowledged the pressure exerted by Carl Sargeant’s death and the subsequent furore about the involvement of civil servants both in bullying and in leaking information.
“There are people I haven’t been fair to in recent times, and that’s my family,” he said.
“In any normal political career you expect to be put through the wringer and have your everything challenged. I don’t think anyone can know what these last few months have been like, other than Lisa and the kids. They have helped me through the darkest of times. I have asked too much of them at times and it’s time for me think about what’s fair to them.”
While no direct allegations of wrongdoing were ever made against Mr Jones personally, the suspicion that something was rotten among civil service political appointees became increasingly hard to dispel. And there have been increasing signs in the First Minister’s responses to questions that he is feeling the pressure, as the Olympian sarcasm he often uses to cross-cut opposition AMs has degenerated to personal attacks on those questioning him.
Evidence of that was the abortive attempt to smear Adam Price in exchanges over the healthcare reorganisation in Hywel Dda.
A Freedom of Information Act request made by The Herald to the Health Board uncovered that civil servants working for the Welsh Government had asked for details of Mr Price’s correspondence from the Health Board and after receiving it had gone back and asked for details other AMs’ and MPs’ correspondence.
That led to an angry exchange in the Senedd last week, when Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire AM Angela Burns, referring to The Herald’s article about our Freedom of Information Act request and the Health Board’s response, questioned the First Minister why she was still waiting for an answer to her own request from the Welsh Government on the same lines. When Adam Price raised the spectre of a ‘smear machine’ staffed by civil servants to assist Labour in making personal attacks on opposition AMs, Mr Jones responded with a personal attack on Adam Price.
The field of candidates to replace Mr Jones is likely to number no more than four, thanks to the nomination procedure for leadership of the Assembly group. Likely runners include Ken Skates, the Economy Secretary, Health Secretary Vaughan Gething, and possibly Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford – likely to be popular with a grass-roots membership significantly more left wing than the party in the Assembly.
AM calls for sweeping changes
“IT’S BEEN a disastrous year for Welsh Democracy.”
Those were the eye-catching words with which controversial Cardiff AM Neil McEvoy spoke about the need for a new campaign group within Plaid Cymru.
Suspended from membership of his party and expelled from the Party of Wales’ Assembly group after demanding access to information held about him under the Data Protection Act after Plaid made a complete hash of an investigation into allegations made against him by a firm of lobbyists, Mr McEvoy was not talking about his own experiences.
Fed up of what he regards as nepotism and systemic corruption within the Welsh body-politic, Mr McEvoy offered a series of trenchant analyses of Wales’ political and social problems.
And he started by referring to the dismissal of the late Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Carl Sargeant.
Neil McEvoy writes: It took just three anonymous complaints about a Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary – which were not investigated, not proven, not deemed serious enough to go to the police or even written down. They led to him being sacked and judged guilty by the mob, without the opportunity to defend himself. We know the rest.
The Permanent Secretary of the Civil Service is refusing to release documents that the democratically elected National Assembly has demanded. I’ve had to invoke a clause in the Government of Wales Act used for the first time, to force the publication of the report into the Carl Sargeant leak, because I am not going to sit in our Senedd and let Wales be disrespected.
My motion is supported by the Conservatives and even UKIP, but we have to wait until after recess for Plaid Cymru to confirm if they will or will not back my motion. For the sake of the Welsh National Interest, I hope they do.
Investigations into the First Minister’s involvement into the shoddy sacking affair are being whitewashed. We’ve been hearing about a toxic culture at the heart of Welsh Government. When we campaigned for the Welsh Assembly is this where anyone thought it would end up?
Plaid Cymru – the Party of Wales – has to rise above this kind of politics and lead the way.
FREE SPEECH UNDER THREAT
Neil McEvoy had strong words about the threat posed to free speech in Wales.
Nowadays, being offended is almost a hobby for some people. They’re dismissed as virtue signallers in many parts of the world. But they don’t get dismissed in Wales. They actually make it onto the news. Too many of them have made it into our Assembly. Mock outrage everywhere on Twitter from politicians who joke about the same things in private.
The reality is that we have imported America’s culture war into Welsh politics. Instead of uniting people we’re dividing people up. Some people are said to be oppressors, simply because of their gender or race. People talk about male white privilege. Are white men in the valleys privileged? Really?
In Wales, we should know where the oppressor is, because it’s been the same for a thousand years. It’s the elite in London who have taken the wealth from our country to make themselves rich while keeping us poor.
It’s the new elite in the Bay Bubble, copying their London masters.
I’m not interested in turning people against each other because of their gender, or their race, or their sexual orientation. I know what my political purpose is. It’s addressing the injustice of our country being exploited for centuries.
WE MUST DEFEAT THE ELITE
We have to defeat the elites, they are very powerful people. They’re the political elites that don’t represent us. The London media elite that doesn’t talk about us, unless they have something condescending or negative to say. The financial elite that keeps their money off shore, so we can’t benefit from it.
But where are we now? I was thrown out of the Plaid group for questioning why we can’t sell council houses so long as the money is used to buy new ones. That’s a really popular policy that has helped tens of thousands of working class people own their own home and become independent. That’s real sovereignty as far as I’m concerned, because how can you ever be sovereign when someone else owns the house you live in?
The establishment here has had warnings. The huge rise in the UKIP vote. It didn’t matter how incompetent they were. The less competent the better in order to send a message to the establishment. And they beat us in so many elections as a result.
The Brexit referendum. The establishment didn’t see it coming. They couldn’t understand that faced with voting for the status quo or voting for the unknown, then people would pick the unknown, because that risk was better than keeping things the way they are. I voted remain but I can tell you, I understand why so many people didn’t and I’m not judging anybody for that.
A lot of people voted leave because of immigration, and there is a migration problem in Wales. Our political Leaders choose not to talk about it. Because our economy is bad, our young, talented and economically active people have to leave. And they’re replaced by older, economically inactive people because Wales is a cheaper, more beautiful place to retire.
The best thing we can do about this is become wealthy. That way the young people stay and it will be the talented, economically active people coming to our country because of the opportunities we’ll have here.
DANGER FOR THE ASSEMBLY
People are crying out for change, but nobody is providing it. The establishment in Wales don’t want change. The status quo is working great for them so they’ll fight to keep it.
What we need is equality of opportunity, which means ending nepotism and ending corruption, because nothing hurts equal opportunity more than nepotism and corruption. You can see that in Cardiff Bay. Millions dished out to the third sector, who often seem to spend a lot but deliver little. Those organisations are packed with Labour members.
We’ve got lobbyists running rampant in Cardiff Bay, selling access and information to the highest bidder. Anyone who gets in their way is smeared in the most personal and damaging way. These people are poisoning our democracy and must be dealt with.
But how can we when we’ve had the same Labour party in charge in Wales for 20 years? That’s not healthy for any democracy.
I can tell you where this is heading. People will not be voting for a sovereign Wales in future. They’ll be voting to abolish the Assembly. Because they’re looking at what’s going on and they’re thinking the Assembly is too broke to fix. But too many of us worked too hard to get a national parliament to see it fail like this.
So what are we going to do about it? We are going to get organised and we are going to change the direction of this party, change the direction of its politics and change people’s minds about voting for us. We’re going to propel Wales forward.
State of Welsh roads examined
A NEW inquiry will look at the state of roads in Wales and what is being done to ensure they are fit for the future.
The National Assembly’s Econonmy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee will look at the current condition of Welsh roads and whether the funding and maintenance models in place are providing value for money.
Recent media reports claimed it would take 24 years to clear the backlog of road repairs across the country.
The Committee will also look at the viability and value for money of major construction projects like the M4 relief road around Newport, the A465 dualling programme between Gilwern and Brynmawr, the Caernarfon to Bontnewydd bypass, and the Newtown bypass. Costs for the relief road have already risen beyond £1 billion, while a recent Welsh Government announcement revealed the A465 is also projected to be over budget.
“Potholes and poorly maintained roads are a frustration for all of us. As well as making your journey uncomfortable they can seriously damage the Welsh economy and society as a whole,” said Russell George AM, Chair of the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee.
“Think of the millions of journeys made every year for business, for leisure, for health needs, school runs and so on. It is essential Wales has a well-maintained road network to keep the country moving.
“We understand that, at a time of budget cuts and financial pressures, local authorities are having to make tough decisions. But we intend to examine the current condition of Welsh roads and what is being done to make the network fit for the future.”
The terms of reference for the inquiry are:
The current condition of roads in Wales and whether the approach to funding and delivery of maintenance programmes for the local road, trunk road and motorway network in Wales is effective, managed so as to minimise disruption to road users, and provides value for money;
Whether major enhancement projects on the local road, trunk road and motorway network are prioritised, funded, planned and delivered effectively, and provide value for money. Relevant issues include the implementation of the Early Contractor Involvement approach and the opportunities offered by the Welsh Government’s Mutual Investment Model; and
Whether Wales is adopting a sustainable approach to the maintenance and enhancement of its road network in the context of key legislation such as the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013.
A public consultation will be open until 27 April 2018. Anyone wishing to contribute should first view the Committee’s web pages for more information.
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