A subsidised air link between Cardiff and Anglesey that has cost the taxpayer £9m since it was set up in 2007 has underperformed in providing value for money, a critical report has found.
The National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee said it had significant concerns about the service – dubbed “Ieuan Air” after it started under then-Transport Minister and Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones – after a huge drop-off in passenger numbers.
Assembly Members on the committee concluded it would need a big marketing push if the government decided to keep it going.
Economy Minister Edwina Hart ordered last week for a new subsidised contract to be put in place from December, when the current arrangement with Citywing runs out.
The service has run twice-daily weekday flights since it was brought in, but requires public funds under the government’s aim of supporting services that “would not otherwise be commercially viable”.
Evidence from the Wales Audit Office (WAO) to the committee’s inquiry found it had cost the taxpayer around £86 in subsidy for every one of the 65,073 passengers which used the service between May 2007 and April 2013.
The public subsidy was increased by £300,000, but was capped at £1.2m when the last deal was struck.
Passenger numbers have plunged by around 43% since 2008-2009, with the committee hearing planes now runs largely half empty with an average “load” of less than half, at around 46%-47%.
The report recommended a “comprehensive marketing strategy” by any new bidder to run the service to “improve uptake and recognition” of it, with the current spend standing at between £20,000 and £25,000 and involves appearances at Swansea and Anglesey air shows and radio advertising.
It also urged independent variation of passenger figures after it said there was a “discrepancy” between figures provided by the Auditor General for Wales and the Civil Aviation Authority – and said there should be an analysis of who was using the service.
“The committee remains concerned that this service is underperforming when it comes to providing value for money for the Welsh taxpayer,” said Darren Millar, chair of the committee.
“The lack of reliable, independent data about passenger numbers, including the types of people using the service must be addressed.
“The committee also believes that, if the service is to continue with public funding support, a strong marketing campaign should be part of any contract awarded.”
Aled Roberts, Welsh Liberal Democrat member of the committee and North Wales AM, dubbed the subsidy “wasteful and polluting” and said the service should be scrapped.
“This costly venture does little to address the real problems of public transport links between north and south,” he said.
“People in North Wales have gained little from this service. The evidence given to the committee raised serious questions with regard to the value for money this subsidy provides. There is also the issue that passenger numbers have fallen by 43% since their peak in 2009.
“Rail links are far more important for my region than this service. Any public money should be spent on improving rail links between the north and Cardiff.”
Plaid Cymru transport spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “Historically, Wales has suffered a connectivity problem, and the north-south air link is an important part of trying to overcome that.
“We also need to prioritise better rail and road links and that is why Plaid Cymru worked hard in government to improve the road network across Wales, and increase capacity on rail and bus.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The service improves business connectivity between North and South Wales, as well as boosting tourism opportunities. The process to award a future contract for this service has now started and will look for the best service for the travelling public, with the highest economic impact while at the same time minimising the cost to the Welsh Government.”
Sourced from walesonline