Leaked letter shows top Labour councillors share Plaid Cymru’s view that government transport plans WILL cut off communities
Plaid’s Llyr Gruffydd says bus cuts will leave communities “without public transport options”
A leaked letter from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) has revealed that top Labour councillors believe the Welsh Government’s plans to cut bus funding will cut off communities.
Plaid Cymru MS Llyr Gruffydd said the letter showed his party’s serious concerns about the future of transport throughout Wales was shared by councillors in all parts of Wales and urged the Labour Government to rethink the funding cuts.
In a letter to the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, dated 13th March, Labour Councillors Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart, the WLGA’s Leader and Deputy Leader, outlined several issues in the Welsh Government’s “Top-down” transport policy, which was causing a “perfect storm for communities”, and an approach to bringing about change in transport policy that is “all stick and no carrot”.
The letter to the First Minister outlined several areas of concern, including:
- The Roads Review, where there was very limited contact with council Leaders after the review had reached its conclusions, and the “narrow and desk-based nature of much of the Roads Review work”.
- ‘Cart before horse’ planning, referring to the lack of investment in public transport alternatives needed to encourage people out of cars and on to public transport.
- The “sheer volume of transport-related issues” which is leaving councils struggling to manage at present, with more proposals by the Welsh Government placing councils’ highways and transport staff under great pressure. It also raised concern that there would be implications from policies such as the default 20mph on school transport and winter service plans, with longer shifts needing to be covered.
- Rural concerns, where there is no public transport services in some areas – having a knock on effect on economic development, and where active travel is “simply not a realistic option”.
- Social inequality and exclusion for many residents where “public transport is a lifeline as they either cannot afford, or are unable, to drive.”
- Concerns about the Deputy First Minister’s conduct which has led councillors to be “concerned about the nature of the debate and tone of the meetings”.
Plaid Cymru held a debate in the Senedd on the future of the Bus Emergency Scheme earlier this week which called on the Welsh Government to extend the scheme for at least 18 months to provide longer-term financial security to bus operators across Wales. The motion also called on the government to bring forward long-term secure funding options to maintain bus services, as opposed to emergency funding schemes.
Both calls were rejected by the Labour Government and transport minister Lee Waters.
The leaked letter revels that Cllrs Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart both agree with Plaid Cymru’s call and called on the Welsh Government to secure funding for buses in the long term, writing:
Agreeing with Plaid Cymru’s calls on the Welsh Government to secure funding for buses in the long term, Cllrs Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart said:
“The fact [Bus Funding] is being extended was welcomed but there was a call for ways to be found to make the funding permanent so that services can be protected. Whilst passenger numbers have not recovered post-Covid, they never will if services start to be cut across Wales. […] “Loss of bus services is potentially devastating for these groups [older people, young people, people with disabilities and low income households], impacting on their well-being by restricting access to educational, economic, health and leisure services and to family and social contacts.”
Responding to the critical letter, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Local Government, Llyr Gruffydd MS, said:
“It’s clear that Plaid Cymru’s serious concerns about the future of transport throughout Wales are shared by councillors in all parts of Wales. In particular, there is a great deal of concern about the future of bus services which, as they stand, will leave communities cut off. This is why Plaid Cymru put forward a debate in the Senedd this week on the future of the Bus Emergency Scheme.”
“The Welsh Government’s current plans on buses are set to leave communities without public transport options. This could be disastrous for many – particularly older people, vulnerable groups, poorer communities, and those who live in rural areas.
“It was also worrying to read in the WLGA’s letter to the First Minister that there are issues surrounding the conduct of the Deputy Minister for Transport, particularly the ‘nature of the debate and tone of the meetings’.
“At the centre of any plan to ensure a greener future for all of Wales must be a public transport system that is improved and equally available to all. Any plan to ensure this must take everyone in Wales along with it.”
WLGA letter to the First Minister, 13 March 2023
Dear First Minister,
TRANSPORT MATTERS: Roads review, bus funding/BES3 and franchising proposals, 20mph default, pavement parking, Active Travel and Regional Transport Plans
At the WLGA Executive Board meeting on 24th February, Leaders considered reports on the Roads Review and on Bus Funding. Together, the reports generated a long discussion which took up the majority of the meeting. Leaders are fully supportive of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to improve public transport and active transport alternatives. However, a long list of concerns was aired and it was agreed these raise such important issues, transcending transport to impact on all other council service areas, that we should write to you as First Minister.
The main issues raised were as follows:
- The lack of local engagement by the team that undertook the Roads Review: There was very limited contact with Leaders and then only after the review had reached its conclusions. There was no attempt to discuss the review with either of us, as WLGA Leader/Transport Spokesperson and Deputy Leader/Economy Spokesperson. Local communities that will be affected by the decisions were given no opportunity to input from their lived experiences. This ‘top down’ approach has raised wider concerns over Regional Transport Plans and the scope there will be for local discretion.
- The narrow and desk-based nature of much of the Roads Review work: There is little knowledge or evidence of field work being undertaken by the team on the ground in the localities affected. Indeed, the team appears to have divided up the roads to carry out their assessments, with not all team members visiting or being involved in each case. The focus on the merits or otherwise of road proposals was felt to have overlooked much wider dependencies and issues of community resilience linked to such schemes.
- ‘Cart before horse’ planning: This phrase was used in the meeting, referring to the lack of investment in public transport alternatives needed to encourage people out of cars and on to public transport. The fact BES3 is being extended was welcomed but there was a call for ways to be found to make the funding permanent so that services can be protected. Whilst passenger numbers have not recovered post-Covid, they never will if services start to be cut across Wales. There were concerns it will result in a downward spiral of decline. The incongruity of having a concessionary pass but no bus to use it on was raised, predictably.
- The sheer volume of transport-related issues councils are struggling to manage at present: As the heading of this letter indicates, there is a long list of transport-related projects and requirements, all of which are being taken forward simultaneously. The proposal on pavement parking enforcement is just the most recent example. This is placing councils’ highways and transport staff under great pressure with much of it being on top of the ‘day job’, such as maintaining highways and structures, keeping daily bus services running smoothly. Difficulties recruiting technical staff are exacerbating the position.
- Implications for home to school transport and winter service plans – serious concerns were raised about the implications of the current circumstances for school transport. For some time now councils have been faced with operators withdrawing services only to see costs escalate dramatically when routes are re-tendered. If we start to lose services, drivers and even some operators, the situation is only going to worsen. The 20mph default speed limit, whilst having considerable support, will lengthen some home to school journey times, add to operator costs and put further upward pressure on tender prices. There are also implications of the 20mph default limit for winter service, as gritters travel at an average 28mph so the new limit will extend the time needed for runs, impacting on operators’ hours.
- Rural concerns - a number of Leaders from the more rural authorities spoke of there already being no public transport services in some areas. They fear this will become more extensive. In such communities active travel is simply not a realistic option for many journeys given distances, weather conditions, terrain and safety concerns. Attempts to attract businesses to rural areas to create local sources of employment and reduce the need to travel are felt to be at risk if vital highway improvements and access routes are effectively ruled out and public transport options are not available.
- Social inequality and exclusion: The point was made that for many residents, especially older people, young people, people with disabilities and low income households, public transport is a lifeline as they either cannot afford, or are unable, to drive. Loss of bus services is potentially devastating for these groups, impacting on their well-being by restricting access to educational, economic, heath and leisure services and to family and social contacts.
Taken together, one Leader described the situation as a ‘perfect storm’ for communities. Another referred to the current approach as ‘all stick and no carrot’. There was a proposal, endorsed by all Leaders, to seek an urgent meeting with you, involving a cross-party delegation, including rural representation.
We believe there is a need to have an open and honest discussion with you on the best way to achieve the ends we all want to see: safer roads, transport choice and equality of access, reducing emissions, healthy communities and thriving local economies. The current set of highways and transport policies are all well-intentioned and laudable in their own right, but we feel there is a better way to approach them. Leaders’ general feeling was that they are being handed down to councils rather than being developed with us.
Whilst we have been grateful to the Deputy Minister for his readiness to engage with Leaders and Transport Cabinet Members on these issues, members have been concerned about the nature of the debate and tone of the meetings. Leaders stressed the importance of mutual respect in our discussions. This has been at the heart of our successful joint working across a wide range of service areas.
We would be grateful if your office could liaise with WLGA officials to find a suitable date for a cross-party group of Leaders to meet with you. We are sure we can table date for a cross-party group of Leaders to meet with you. We are sure we can work together to agree a mutually acceptable way to take these matters forward.
Councillor Andrew Morgan (WLGA Leader)
Councillor Rob Stewart (WLGA Deputy Leader)