Wednesday, October 10, 2018


The news that the Severn bridge tolls will be gone by Christmas could, if you were in the right frame of mind, perhaps be considered an early Christmas present. Personally I am like many people glad to see the back of the tolls - I have long considered the Severn bridge tools to be a tax - on commuters, on jobs and businesses. 

The concession holders regulations, as they were written, back in the 1990's - no doubt to encourage private enterprise to take over the building project and the tolls, pretty much allowed the lease holder(s) to ramp up the bridge in an annual basis raking in the profits much to the irritation of regular bridge users.  

The Second Severn Bridge - cheap at half the price!
The Westminster based (and focused) political parties took a while to wake up to the reality, and eventually made the usual noises, usually when in opposition, rather than when in power at Westminster. As the toll is about to end, it may wonder or consider whether it was ever worth contracting out the construction of the second crossing (and the tolls) to a private concern in the first place.

Obviously the decision to ' privatise' the construction of the second Severn bridge and to privatise the consortium that ran the concession was one made for openly ideological (political) reasons. We have ended up with a bridge, that cost a lot - to build and an ever greater deal to cross - I suspect if we are being honest, that the answer in no. 

Taking the long view it would have been much more sensible for the state to build and run the bridge - rather than shirk its responsibilities. Had the project been commissioned under New Labour then it would have probably been commissioned via PFI - buy now, pay a hell of a lot later. By the time the two Severn Bridges come back into public ownership in 2018, it has been estimated that this cash cow may well have been milked to the tune of about £ 1.029 billion pounds. 

Severn Bridge tolls since 1976
Back in October 2010, Professor Peter Midmore's independent economic study of the Severn Bridge tolls recommended that the revenues from the tolls should stay in Wales, once the crossings revert to public hands. The study of 122 businesses commissioned by the Federation of Small Businesses revealed that the tolls had a negative impact on 30% of firms in South Wales, this compared with 18% in the Greater Bristol area.

The fact that successive Westminster governments have found it impossible to complete a public project on budget, to cost and on-time, should tell us something. This is not necessarily the case elsewhere, a prime example being the the Millau Viaduct (in France) which just happened to be on time, on budget and at cost - the failure to manage to achieve this here regularly in the UK - may tell us more about the incompetence, inefficiency and perhaps the less than transparent aspects of the Westminster based political parties relationship with the city and big business. 

The Millau Viaduct - on target, on time, on budget...
We will probably never find out how and why the relevant legislation and the concession regulations that allowed the tolls to rise so regularly were written (or by who). The end result was that the concession holders were allowed and whether whoever made that questionable decision received any reward - cash or kind. Had the second severn crossing and subsequent toll concession been run by the state, then there is the distinct possibility that the tolls would have remained far lower and wold probably have been reduced and canceled far earlier. We would also probably not have got so regularly and consistently fleeced by Severn Crossings PLC . 

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