A Labour Assembly Member has criticised his own committee’s inquiry into a publicly-subsidised air link connecting North and South Wales as “superficial and simplistic” – and blasted comments made by his chaiman which “bear no relationship” to the report’s findings.
Swansea East AM Mike Hedges, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, was part of the cross-party committee which produced a report into the Cardiff-Anglesey air link, which has received £9m in public subsidy since it was set up in 2007 but has seen passenger numbers plunge.
It comes after the Welsh Government confirmed it had ordered for a new contract until 2018 to be awarded when the current arrangement, with Isle of Man-based Citywing, runs out in December.
The committee chair Darren Millar said the air link had “underperformed” in demonstrating it was value-for-money for the taxpayer.
But Mr Hedges said: “Darren Millar speaks as the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, he speaks with that position that he gets because the Conservatives have a duty to be the chair of it, because of the way it is set up so the larger parties have the chair of it.
“[But] as a general matter of principle, when Darren Millar speaks about things that are not in the report – he’s not speaking for me.”
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.
But Mr Hedges, a former leader of Swansea council before he was elected to the Assembly in 2011, also hit out at the “superficial” and “bland” inquiry into the air link, which was dubbed “Ieuan Air” because it began under then-Transport Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones.
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”.
He said the Assembly committees were trying to do “too much, not very well” and that the air link inquiry had a lack of comparison to other subsidised services, such as air services to the Scottish Highland and islands and the subsidised rail franchise.
Mr Hedges said: “If you’re going to do it, let’s do it properly. We do have a tendency to be a bit superficial in some of the things we do. This is the worst example of it.
“Having one consultant and the Welsh Government and then writing the report, with all fairly bland recommendations, then quotes bearing no relationship to the report that are very much less than bland.
“The report itself is bland. It’s superficial and simplistic. It had the views of one consultant…who came along and talked to us about. Then we had the view of the Welsh Government. Very simplistic, very superficial and very bland recommendations. I have no problem with that at all. Who would?
“But how anybody from the information in there can say there are concerns over the cost of it…there may be. I don’t know. Nobody knows.”
It follows a similar row among AMs on the Environment Committee, who fell out over a letter sent by its then-chairman Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas that was heavily critical of then-Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies’ evidence to a scrutiny session.
Three Labour AMs complained over the tone of the letter, which they claimed they had not had a chance to read as it came among lots of other emails.
Sourced from walesonline