Transport Projects

June 22, 2011 4:40 PM
By Peter Black
Originally published by Peter Black and South Wales West Liberal Democrats

Peter Black: I move amendment 2 in my name.

The Liberal Democrat amendment may be fairly straightforward in what it says, but there is nothing wrong with that, Rhodri Glyn. Sometimes you have to say the blindingly obvious in order to get the message across.

I wish to raise an issue relating to the Plaid Cymru amendment. Rhodri Glyn made the point that most of the projects cited in the Wales Audit Office report were commissioned before Ieuan Wyn Jones became the Minister for transport. That is absolutely correct. However, the implementation of those projects certainly overlapped with a large part of his time in office. A key part of the Wales Audit Office report says that, before 2009-10, the Assembly Government exercised only limited control over local authority-managed transport grant projects, despite carrying most of the financial risk. Clearly, the former Minister put in place management structures to deal with many of the criticisms in the report, but there was a time between when he took office and when those structures were put in place when those projects were overrunning and money was being lost due to problems with planning and implementation. Clearly, the former Minister is not entirely blameless with regard to the scenario before us.

4.45 p.m.

I am not here to talk about blame; in fact, the amendment does not talk about blame either. What we are talking about is how we can move forward in this matter and how we can ensure that the transport projects that we have-we cannot put right what has happened-are delivered on time and to budget. If we do not do that, the limited capital budget available to us will not be spent efficiently and effectively. I can think of a number of projects that I would like to see introduced, some of which were included in the programme published by the previous Welsh Government. They need to be implemented, but that depends on the other projects coming in on time and to budget.

The important point to take from this debate and from the Wales Audit Office report is that we have to learn the lessons, and we have to deliver proper budgeting processes to ensure that large capital projects, whether delivered directly by the Welsh Government or by other agencies, such as local government, on behalf of the Welsh Government, are delivered within budget. If we do not achieve that, we will not have the necessary capital investment that is badly needed for infrastructure in all parts of Wales.

There are issues to do with the Government's infrastructure programme, and I look forward to the new Minister who is taking on that responsibility introducing a revised transport capital programme. The criteria for determining some of those capital projects, in terms of approval and implementation, were not necessarily objective in a sense that many would subscribe to. For example, there were bypasses that were crucial to the communities concerned, as they had a huge impact on them by delivering them from traffic congestion and other problems. That means that they offered value for money at that time. However, there are other projects involving traffic vehicle movements up to 10 times greater than those roads that were bypassed that did not get approval, either because of cost or other considerations. When we deliver these projects, it is important that we ensure not only value for money, but that we look at the volume of traffic that these roads carry and the impact that the projects would have on communities and the local economy. A number of factors need to be taken into account.

As has already been pointed out, the Wales Audit Office report identified over £226 million in budget overspend for transport projects. Some of the reasons given for the escalation in costs are very basic. The report notes that early estimates for some projects failed to take into account the cost of inflation over the life of the project. That is a basic mistake, similar to that which meant that Tessa Jowell's first Olympics budget failed to take account of the £250 million due in VAT. That is the sort of basic mistake that we ought not to expect of the highly paid civil servants and the Ministers who approve these projects.

The Welsh Government has made some improvements to its internal procedures, but there is no room for complacency. The huge sums of money involved require a serious commitment to efficiency and robust monitoring. Tokenistic gestures will not work in the current financial climate. I hope that this debate will help to focus minds-the fact that we have had a chance to debate this matter in Plenary will help to focus minds. I certainly look forward to a better performance during this Assembly.

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