Questions asked over Welsh Government transport priorities as figures show that the air link between Anglesey and Cardiff continues to enjoy public funding
The Welsh Government has defended a big increase in subsidy for the North-South Wales air service while it cuts funding for lifeline bus services.
From 2010-11 to 2012-13, subsidy for the flights between Anglesey and the Vale of Glamorgan increased by 37.2%. Subsidy was £184 for each passenger who used the service in 2012-13.
Over the same two-year period, the Labour government in Cardiff Bay reduced its grant to councils for unprofitable bus services by 29.2%.
A recent BBC investigation revealed that Welsh councils have withdrawn at least 94 bus routes since 2011.
Other services are under review because subsidy per passenger exceeds £2 or £3.
The Welsh Government has been reviewing bus funding since early 2012 – but has not evaluated the air service’s costs and benefits since the global financial crash and major reductions in public-sector budgets.
The air service’s figures can be studied because a National Assembly committee asked the Wales Audit Office to investigate. Similar analysis of the subsidised first-class rail facility between Holyhead and Cardiff is impossible, because the government has declined to disclose how many passengers used it last year.
The air service, linking Cardiff airport to RAF Valley twice each way per working weekday, was launched in 2007. It carried almost 15,000 passenger journeys in 2008-09, and an appraisal in 2008 concluded that the service had a positive impact on many sectors of the Welsh economy.
The service carried only 8,406 passenger journeys in 2012-13. Subsidy for the air operator and the civilian air terminal at RAF Valley increased from £1.08m in 2008-09 to £1.55m in 2012-13.
Despite these significant changes, no cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken since 2008.
Conservative AM Mark Isherwood, who represents North Wales, said: “It seems that once again the Welsh Government has been caught with its corporate-governance pants down. They invested public money without putting controls in place.”
North Wales Liberal Democrat AM Aled Roberts contrasted the detailed evaluation of bus services by councils with the Welsh Government’s policy of increasing air subsidy without assessing value for money.
“If the [air] service has always been heavily reliant on people from the public sector to make use of it, clearly the financial constraints on the public sector suggest that there isn’t going to be as much usage going forward,” he said.
The Welsh Government says passenger numbers have been increasing, with 8,536 passenger journeys carried in the 2013 calendar year.
Asked why it had reduced subsidy for buses while increasing air subsidy, a Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are committed to delivering a range of public transport to support the social and economic needs of Wales.
“A full appraisal of the North-South air service is already underway. We are looking for innovative solutions to deliver an efficient, sustainable bus service across Wales and have established a new Bus Advisory Group to review policies and look at new approaches to funding. Local authorities are responsible for determining how they spend the funding we provide and identify which services should be supported and at what level.”
Mr Isherwood said bus services were being cut despite all parties in the Assembly agreeing that they provided an important service, especially in rural and deprived areas. Arriva had told him recently it would take on some threatened bus routes.
Sourced from walesonline