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It’s been widely reported that rail commuters can expect to see train ticket prices rise by around 8% from early next year. But for some commuters in Wales, it’s still not clear how much their fares will increase.

That’s because the responsibility for deciding how much the increase will be on many services here in Wales is down to the Welsh Government which hasn’t yet decided what it will do.

It’s important to explain that the reason for the forthcoming increase is a formula decided by the UK Government and based on inflation as measured by the RPI figure.

In previous years, fares have gone up by RPI + 1%, but from January the increase will be RPI + 3%.

But when it comes to services operated by Arriva Trains which run in Wales or start and finish here*, it’s up to the Welsh Government to decide whether or not to stick with the RPI + 1% or follow the UK Government’s example and add 3%.

A spokesperson said,

The Welsh Government is currently reviewing the options for the setting of regulated rail fares for 2012 and will make a decision shortly.

It won’t be an easy decision for the Transport Minister Carl Sargeant.

On the one hand he could keep down fare increases on Arriva Trains services here but with the result that there’ll be less money for investment in train lines, stations and carriages.

Or he could match the increase on services running in England (and of course many in Wales such as First Great Western and Virgin). That would see more money come in for investment but risks putting passengers off travelling by rail, something he doesn’t want to see.

His Conservative shadow, Byron Davies, agrees it’s a conundrum, but reckons that ultimately investment is the most important thing. He told me,

If we’re to move forward, replacing ancient carriages and improving rail lines, you’ve got to go for investment. Connecting Wales is important and we have to build for tomorrow.

Although not as high-profile, it’s nevertheless reminiscent of the Welsh Government’s previous decision to hold down student tuition fees.

When it comes to rail fares, which track will it take?

 

* Regulated rail fares the Welsh Government is responsible for are the following on Arriva Trains Wales only:

  • Standard Day single
  • Standard Day return
  • Seven-day season tickets

Blog changes

If you’re following this blog, you’ll have to change your bookmarks, subscriptions or RSS feeds I’m afraid, because I won’t be blogging on this site any longer.

Most of what I post here is also published on the main ITV Wales blog. When I joined ITV Wales we felt that I could use this site for first publication and for the more arcane political gossip or snippets which might not interest readers of the main blog.

What’s changed is that I now use twitter for that sort of information and blog less often so all posts are duplicated which seems a bit of a waste of time and can prove confusing when there’s a time delay between one or the other and if I update or correct information on one and not the other.

There are further changes in the pipeline too as ITV develops a new online presence but, in the meantime,  last night’s post on corporation tax  will be the final entry (apart from this one) to appear here. New links below.

Next Tuesday in the Assembly, the First Minister will set out what his government’s stance will be on which financial powers should be transferred to Wales. We’ll have to wait for the full detail, but it’s now clear that in one significant area – corporation tax –  Carwyn Jones has shifted position.

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, a report on the impassioned debate in Northern Ireland on devolving corporation tax powers to Stormont compares the positions of the other devolved governments including Wales:

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are aware that the UK Government is considering devolving powers over corporation tax to Northern Ireland.

“If the UK Government does propose to devolve corporation tax powers to one or more of the devolved administrations, it should make a similar offer to Wales.”

The Welsh Government has confirmed the statement which, although hedged around with caveats, represents a significant development and a change in position by the First Minister who has, until now, resisted opposition calls to demand corporation tax be devolved.

Back in March, before the referendum on further powers he told the BBC,

In order for tax-varying powers to be devolved, particularly income and corporation tax, there would need to be a referendum – no question about that in my mind.

And last week the Western Mail reported how he expressed his concerns to members of the CBI:

Turning to tax, Mr Jones the devolution of corporation tax was “superficially attractive”.

But he added: “We shouldn’t forget the fact that if corporation tax were to be devolved and reduced, there’s a consequential hit on public finances.

“The worry I have is that if England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can set their own rates, we will then find ourselves in a competitive spiral to the bottom, which will be fine for businesses but not so good for public finances.”

No doubt he would argue that it’s not he that’s changed position but the UK government which is considering changing its position and that his government is simply dealing with a new reality.

And underlining the First Minister’s continued suspicion of the move,  on tonight’s Sharp End Labour AM Keith Davies told me,

We’ve discussed it as a group and one of the issues Carwyn put forward was that if Northern Ireland get it they’ll be competing with southern Ireland and it’ll cost Northern Ireland a large sum of money.

Me: In that case then Wales should have that power?

KD: No because what Carwyn was saying was that it’ll cost Northern Ireland a lot of money and they’ll lose out on it.

But when I published some of this information on Twitter earlier, Plaid tweeters seized on it as evidence of a u-turn and the party has tonight put out this statement:

Plaid Cymru has welcomed the Welsh government’s u-turn on corporation tax and has called on Carwyn Jones to be proactive in making the case for Wales to take responsibility for these powers.  Ieuan Wyn Jones AM, Plaid Cymru’s Finance spokesperson, said it was positive that the argument Plaid had been making for years had brought about a change of position in the government.

UPDATE 17/06/11 16.40

I’ve now had a further statement from a Welsh Government spokesperson :

We are not actively seeking powers to devolve corporation tax. However, if the UK Government is planning to give CT varying powers to one of the devolved administrations, then we would expect this offer to be extended to Wales also.

It has to be said that reducing the rate of CT would leave a large hole in Welsh finances, at a time when a financial squeeze is being imposed by the UK Government.

Assembly members will get the chance to vote on whether or not to reinstate the two disqualified Liberal Democrat AMs on June 29th.

That’s the date when two motions – one relating to Aled Roberts and one to John Dixon – have been tabled to be discussed.

The date is the latest possible under the timetable outlined in legal advice given to the Presiding Officer, but according to several sources I’ve spoken today it’s also the earliest realistic date.

The view is that AMs will need to have all the facts and legal opinions in their possession before making a judgement and that means waiting for the police to conclude their investigation, for the Crown Prosecution Service to make its decision and then for the Assembly’s own investigation. *

One political source told me that setting a date also sends ‘a clear message’ about the intent to try to find a way to overturn the disqualifications to the returning officers of North Wales and South Wales Central.

These men, Mohammed Mehmet and John House, are crucial to what happens next because it’s they who’ll declare the two seats officially vacant and they who will nominate the next candidates on the regional lists.

I gather that they will wait until the outcome of these motions before taking any further action although that won’t stop them preparing for that action, i.e. contacting the next on the list and checking that they’re still willing and able to become Assembly members.

It’s not clear what chances the motions have of succeeding. Labour members are taking a strong line against the disqualified two as are many Conservatives.

One Labour source said to me, ‘How can they be re-instated? They were never elected?’  If that view holds sway, then it’s all over for the Lib Dem 2.

They may find support amongst Plaid members although even there it’s said that, while there’s no hardening of opinion against them, there’s not much by way of positive support.

But the Welsh Liberal Democrats remain hopeful and aren’t planning to abandon their efforts to re-instate their colleagues.

A senior source told me that the party acknowledges mistakes have been made, but that members think highly of Aled Roberts and John Dixon and want to see them in the Senedd.

Several party figures have told me that many of the sternest critics have changed their mind when the legal position’s been explained to them and they hope more will do so when the final reports are in.

Whatever the outcome, it means another three weeks of uncertainty for Aled Roberts and John Dixon who by then will have been in limbo for nearly two months and another three weeks when the Liberal Democrats only have three members in the Senedd chamber.

All this could change when the CPS makes its decision public. According to a CPS spokesman, the matter’s still with the police. The police will only say that they’re still investigating.

* I understand that the barrister Gerard Elias QC has been lined up to head the Assembly’s investigation.

The Assembly spokesman wouldn’t confirm this or otherwise, saying only that there is no investigation yet and therefore no appointment but other sources have confirmed the name.

It’s a name which may be familiar to seasoned Assembly-watchers.  Back in 2004 there was a row when it emerged Mr Elias had been vetoed by then First Minister Rhodri Morgan for the job of Counsel General.

 

UPDATE: 16:32 Here’s an Assembly statement on the Clerk’s investigation.

The investigation initiated by the Clerk of the National Assembly, into the circumstances that led to the disqualification as Assembly Members of two Liberal Democrat candidates, was suspended pending the outcome of the police investigation into the matter. For as long as that investigation is on-going it is not possible to take any final decision as to the form and timing of any resumption of the Assembly’s own investigation, although the aim of the Clerk would be to ensure that if the need arises, that investigation would be carried out as a matter of urgency. We cannot make any further comment at present.

There seem to have been a lot of false starts in Welsh politics recently, amongst them the contest to replace Nick Bourne as leader of the Welsh Conservatives in the Assembly.

After an initial flurry when the party’s Assembly Members negotiated agreements and disagreements to come up with a final two, today looks more like a real beginning of the contest.

A week of hustings starts in Aberystwyth tonight and will take the two rivals and their supporters around the country to meet party members.

And earlier one of the candidates, Nick Ramsay, published his manifesto, marking the official launch of his campaign. You can read it on his campaign website here.

There were some surprises in his manifesto such as the eye-catching promise to ‘look again at our policy of opposition to free school breakfasts.’

In itself that may not seem particularly significant but as a signal of intent, it sends quite a message to the political world – that the Welsh Conservatives have changed and, under Nick Ramsay, would be willing to change further.

But he can’t afford to be seen as just a moderniser and a devolution-fan since many in his party are sceptical if not downright hostile to the Assembly and everything connected to it.

So for them there’s this message:

I will not seek devolution of further legislative power to the Welsh Assembly – we now have the tools to get on with the job. It’s time to stop marking out the pitch and start playing the game.

But there was one overriding message he wanted to send today, it was that the Welsh Conservatives must continue to ‘reach out’ to non-Conservatives if it’s ever to be in government in Cardiff Bay.

Naturally he thinks he’s the man to lead that task.

His rival Andrew RT Davies thinks differently. Welsh Conservative members will get to find out more about what HE stands for over the next few days.

The rest of us will find out when his manifesto is published next week.

‘Endemic failures'; a ‘hierarchy’ which ‘doesn’t easily allow a mechanism of change'; ‘programmes that are lasting decades.’

Strong words of criticism directed at the Ministry of Defence by someone who was closely involved in the cancelled plan to build a £14bn training academy at St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

But why does someone who was a member of the senior management team at the Metrix consortium choose to go public with those frustrations?

That’s what I asked Lawrence Lewis, who had been IT Director at Metrix. Was it sour grapes?

His answer? No.  It’s because he genuinely wants to see military training on the site in the future but fears that the problems he encountered at the MOD may not have gone away.

He told me that slow-decision-making in the MOD’s culture means big defence projects are often out-of-date and over-budget.

For instance in the Defence Training Review (which would have created the St Athan Academy) he said there was a failure to adapt to changing technology:

I think the biggest areas of concern was that of course the world had changed quite substantially around us yet the programme had not. It had been going for some time and was still basing itself by and large on the requirements that had been set very early on in the process and of course we know what happened in 2007 – over that period the whole world changed.

He also highlighted concerns about the length of defence projects which last decades at the same time as short-term appointments of those making the decisions.

Of course military personnel who represent the military’s requirements are absolutely necessary on any programme, often times are involved, for example, in conflict are waiting re-deployment and may only be involved in the programme for 12 to 18 months before they’re re-deployed elsewhere. Given that lack of consistency, often times you’re having to backdrack and reset ground that’s already been covered. There does need to be more consistency with military personnel involved in these programmes.

It’s a picture recognised by those who know the armed services well. Military commentator Alan Davies held the rank of Major. He told me that,

Inherently there’s a resistance to change. Then there are tri-service issues – the three services don’t always work well together. The whole thing isn’t geared towards quick decision-making processes.

The MOD recognises that it needs to change. In a statement it said,

Ministers have made clear that they are determined to improve the procurement process and this is one of the key areas that the Defence Reform Unit is considering, as part of its work to develop a department which is simpler, more cost effective and efficient.

Vale of Glamorgan MP Alun Cairns says he’s angry on behalf of his constituents but not surprised at the picture painted by Lawrence Lewis.

But he says the Defence Secretary Liam Fox has identified procurement as a major problem in the past and has it firmly in his sights.

It’s thought the St Athan site is once again in the running as a possible site for defence training. The MOD says,

St Athan was previously chosen as the best location on which to collocate that training for good reasons, and it is still an option for consideration for the future location of Technical Training. 

I understand that an announcement is due within weeks listing the UK Government’s preferred locations for training and that St Athan will be among them.

But with not one but two failed projects there, Lawrence Lewis fears for it and other major defence projects  unless the MOD changes its culture.

I think if this change doesn’t occur we’ll still see some of the endemic failures that we have seen and certainly I’ve witnessed some of that in my own experience. That change must occur, I believe, for the military to perform some of these large, extensive programmes.

You can see a fuller version of my interview with Lawrence Lewis in tonight’s Sharp End at 1035pm ITV1 Wales.

Now that the Welsh election and the powers referendum are behind us, thoughts are turning to what change is next for Wales.

Top of the list (for some) will be the much-anticipated ‘Calman-style process.’

Much-anticipated, that is, by  UK Government ministers ,  Conservatives and Liberal Democrat AMs but not much-anticipated by those in Labour and Plaid.

The coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems states,

Depending on the outcome of the forthcoming referendum, we will establish a process similar to the Calman Commission for the Welsh Assembly.

It’s one of three specific promises to do with Welsh devolution in the coalition agreement, the other two being to introduce a referendum and to take forward the controversial bid for housing powers.

Back in March I said that there wasn’t much detail about what it would entail and there still isn’t. But here’s what I know:

1. It’s being driven by the UK Government.

A source close to the Welsh government told me: ‘We never asked for it, we were never consulted on it, we’ve never seen any detail about it.’

I understand though that it’ll be one of the first items on the agenda when the Secretary of State meets the First Minister shortly.

The Welsh Secretary is also due to meet the Treasury in coming weeks.

2. It will focus on ‘financial accountability’ and not funding reform.

A Labour source said ‘The important thing for us is fair funding for Wales. That’s the first stepping stone.’ Plaid figures have said much the same thing in the past.

But the wording in the UK coalition agreement is

We recognise the concerns expressed by the Holtham Commission on the system of devolution funding. However, at this time, the priority must be to reduce the deficit and therefore any change to the system must await the stabilisation of the public finances.

And nothing has changed since. Although not ruling it out, government sources are pouring cold water on the idea that reform of the Barnett formula will be included in this review.

‘There are things that can be done around Barnett,’ is what I’ve been told.

3. ‘Financial accountability’ hasn’t been defined yet.

The Calman commission is being used by the UK Government to change the way Scotland is funded, reducing its block grant and giving the Scottish government more responsibility for the tax raised in Scotland to plug the gap.

It’s not yet clear what it could mean for Wales. Gerry Holtham, who’s led an in-depth Commission into Welsh public finances has some interesting thoughts here as does Plaid’s economic adviser Eurfyl ap Gwilym.

4. It’s unlikely to consider any other devolution of powers.

The Government has said that any further transfer of power, such as criminal justice or the Crown Estates, is not a good idea so soon after a referendum which has introduced direct lawmaking power to Cardiff Bay.

5. It may not be a Commission.

Before the election, Carwyn Jones said that he felt a full Commission wasn’t needed because of the amount of work already done in this area by Gerry Holtham.

Although a decision on what form this process takes hasn’t yet been made, I gather the Wales Office feels similarly and recognises that a lot of evidence has already been gathered.

It’s also not been decided yet how long it will take.

6. No-one’s been chosen to lead it yet.

I gather possible names have been discussed informally but no more than that. Sources within Whitehall say it should be someone who understands devolution, finance and who understands Wales.

Anyone have Gerry Holtham’s number?

7. There will be a row over it.

It’s interesting that the original Calman commission was imposed on the SNP Scottish Government by Labour, Conservatives and Lib Dems.

Political dividing lines on the Welsh Calman have already been drawn. Labour and Plaid (even if they’re not in government together) will portray it as an imposition particularly without  The Conservatives and the Lib Dems will see it as an opportunity for further devolution.

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