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Minister urged to confirm 2018 electrification date

Opposition parties are demanding that the Transport Minister confirms that the Great Western main line will still be electrified through to Swansea by 2018. Patrick McLoughlin told MPs that the project was a top priority and is going ahead when other electrification schemes are being "paused". But he told Plaid Cymru's Jonathan Edwards that he'd have to write to him about the completion date.

Mr Edwards said he was "concerned by the ambiguity" of the minister's response. The Liberal Democrats' spokesperson in the Assembly says she'll also be writing to Patrick McLoughlin.

It would be completely unacceptable for Welsh passengers to have to wait any longer than they already have for these vital improvements. I am particularly concerned that the Transport Minister failed to properly give a firm delivery date. That simply isn’t good enough.

– Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Eluned Parrott

But the Wales Office Minister Alun Cairns has backed today's announcement.

I'm pleased to hear the strong commitment to south Wales electrification through to Swansea from the Transport Secretary today. This project will transform the lives of people in South Wales by attracting investors, linking businesses to suppliers and connecting people to jobs.

– Wales Office Minister Alun Cairns MP

We've delivered Welsh control of rail service say Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats say the decision to hand control of the Wales and borders rail franchise to the Welsh Government demonstrates their influence in the Westminster coalition. But Plaid Cymru say the railway track itself should have been brought under Welsh control.

Today's announcement is a landmark as it means decisions on Welsh train services will now be made in Wales. The fact that this power closer to the people of Wales shows just how strong the Liberal Democrat influence is in the Wales Office.

Until now, the Governments at either end of the M4 have been able to pass the buck between them over who is to blame when things go wrong. Now we will know absolutely where responsibility lies for making improvements to services and giving Wales the trains it deserves.

The Welsh Government have less than four years to decide what all of Wales needs now and in the future, run a franchise competition, select an operator and then ensure they have the trains they need to deliver decent services. This will be no mean feat, but with matters resolved and commuters knowing where to look for answers, our rail services will be properly accountable at last.

– Welsh Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Eluned Parrott AM

Eluned Parrott also said she was "absolutely delighted" that the Welsh and UK Governments had resolved the funding of Valleys lines electrification. Plaid Cymru's spokesperson, Rhun ap Iorwerth also welcomed it as a "good step in the right direction" but said his party would continue to argue for complete Welsh control of the railway.

Plaid Cymru welcomes the devolution of the rail franchise. For the first time, Wales will be able to choose who operates its own railway. This is something that our party has underlined the importance of for several years. The current and next Welsh Governments now have an enormous challenge in planning and delivering the next franchise, but this is a challenge that we know can be reached.

Plaid Cymru believes this must lead to more areas of the country being opened up to rail services, and that work on this must begin as soon as possible.

Previous Secretaries of State appeared to want Wales to pay the full cost of Valley Lines electrification. They have rowed back on this and have reached a deal. The deal itself is a good step in the right direction but it still appears to leave control of rail infrastructure in the hands of Westminster. We would prefer to see both franchising and infrastructure in Welsh hands so that they can be planned together, and will continue to press on that issue.

– Plaid Cymru Transport Spokesperson Rhun ap Iorwerth AM


M4 plan a huge mistake say Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats say today's go ahead for a new motorway around Newport by 2021 is a "huge mistake" by Economy and Transport Minister Edwina Hart. They say it ignores environmental concerns raised during the consultation on alternative proposals.

The consultation process appears to have been nothing more than a sham. The Minister’s claim that there were no reasons why the ‘black route’ could not be adopted completely ignores evidence provided to her by the RSPB, Sustrans and the Federation of Small Businesses. There are still huge questions surrounding the economic benefit of this development. Investing the Welsh Government’s entire borrowing powers into one single road leaves no money left for other transport projects like the South Wales Metro, which can provide much greater economic benefit for the whole area. Our proposed alternatives are far less expensive, less likely to damage vast swathes of our environment and are academically recommended. It’s shocking that the Welsh Labour Minister is remaining blinkered, ignoring these credible proposals and ploughing ahead regardless.

– Liberal Democrat Economy spokesperson Eluned Parrott AM

Improve image of apprenticeships, say Lib Dems

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are setting out a series of ideas which they say would encourage more young people to consider taking up apprenticeships.

  • A schools liaison programme to boost the image of apprenticeships
  • Apprentice Ambassador scheme
  • Competitions to celebrate skills
  • University-style application process including clearing
  • A single information, application and support system

Business spokesperson Eluned Parrott said:

Unless these practical issues are addressed, apprenticeships will continue to be viewed as a secondary (or even tertiary) route for young people at post-16 level, with university and entering the workplace without formal training taking precedence.

We want young people to know they have a range of positive options on leaving school that will open up rewarding careers – be that through university or skills-based learning. The Welsh Liberal Democrats want to build a stronger economy in a fairer society.

– Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrats

Investigation into Welsh Govt 'lap dancing advice'

First Minister Carwyn Jones has ordered a full investigation into allegations that a Welsh Government-supported website offered young people advice that included:

  • How to set up your own escort agency
  • How to set up your own lap dancing club
  • How to become a stripper

He was told in the Senedd that links to factsheets on all three topics had appeared on the Big Ideas Wales website, which aims to help young people start their own businesses.

These are legal enterprises but are they the kind of aspirational career opportunities that the Welsh Government should be actively promoting to young people?

– Eluned Parrott, Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales Central

No. I was made aware of this some 10 minutes before I came into the chamber. I will ensure that there is a full investigation into how this happened.

– First Minister Carwyn Jones AM

Links to the factsheets are not currently available on the Big Ideas Wales website


Welsh Lib Dem conference discussion

There's no doubt the Liberal Democrats have paid a heavy price in Wales for their party's decision to join forces with the Conservatives at Westminster. But with just two years before the next UK election, have they turned the corner or could things get worse for them?

Our Political Editor Adrian Masters brought together fFormer leader Lord Michael German, Assembly Member Eluned Parrott and Deputy Leader of Monmouthshire council, Phillip Hobson to try to answer that question.

Show us airport plans - Welsh Lib Dems

Welsh Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson Eluned Parrott says, now the Welsh Government has bought Cardiff Airport, it should publish its plans for transforming it.

We’ve had the sound bites from Carwyn, we now know the price but we now we need to see the substance and the government’s long term plans for attracting airlines, tourists and business travellers to Cardiff Airport.

I wish the Government well in its attempts to turn the airport around, but I would have hoped by now we’d have some idea of what the government plans to do to improve the airport.

– Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrats
  1. Adrian Masters

Welsh Lib Dems hope pressure pays off in party vote

For the Welsh Liberal Democrats, there's a lot riding on today's regional pay vote in Brighton. (There are more details here.) If they succeed they'll have set their party against any attempt by the Coalition Government to introduce different public sector pay levels in different parts of the UK.

It's a major challenge too for Eluned Parrott who only became an AM last year but is leading the debate which starts at 4pm this afternoon. She told me that she wants to win over heads as well as hearts, presenting economic arguments against regional pay as well as appealing to a sense of fairness.

She and leader Kirsty Williams have also seized every opportunity to try win over senior figures in a series of formal and informal meetings. Danny Alexander, who earlier this year said he was 'keen' to see local pay, will be in the front row. Have the Welsh Lib Dems succeeded in changing his mind?