At the the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, the Secretary of State spreads some more darkness on the vexed questions of the future of Severn Bridges Toll, when 50% is not 50% and a 'guarantee' is not guaranteed.
Alun Cairns: I would also remind you that even when the bridge comes back into public ownership there will still be a significant debt on the bridge that will need to be repaid. Maintenance of the bridge will be ongoing. This is the sort of thing that the consultation will be looking at and I have absolutely no doubt that you and the Committee will want to express a view when we go out to consultation.
Q90 Chair: This cut that has been promised at 50%—50% on the tolls as they are in 2018 but still 50%—is absolutely guaranteed, isn’t it?
Alun Cairns: That is the Government proposal but there is a consultation going on to how that can be achieved.
Q91 Chair: So it is not quite guaranteed?
Alun Cairns: The announcement has been made in Budget 2015, I think it was, or 2014, and it is something that is Government policy. There will be a consultation that talks about how we can—
Q93 Paul Flynn: Severn Bridge tolls started four years before you were born, Secretary of State. Do you expect them to continue when you reach retirement age?
Alun Cairns: Clearly I would hope, Mr Flynn, that you would accept that the 50% reduction that is proposed, subject to a consultation and so on, is a welcome step. The debt will still need to be repaid and there is also the ongoing maintenance. There is a division across the bridges and links across estuaries that generally a charge—
Q94 Paul Flynn: There was a fascinating core finding that said that 50% of the population didn’t understand what 50% means. You have been quoted as saying that the toll should be £3.70. How is that 50% of £6.70?
Alun Cairns: I was talking about of that order and I talked about it by the time the bridge comes into public ownership for which there will be an inflationary fee. There is an increase that goes up in January, as a result of the Act that ties the increases with the retail price index, but I would ask, Mr Flynn, please wait for the consultation to come out and that is an opportunity to engage further on the detail that we include within the consultation.
Q95 Paul Flynn: In my view, the people of Wales are being ripped off by having one of the few stretches of motorway, which the Severn Bridges are, tolled and this has gone on for all these years now and because of the deals done a long time ago by a previous generation. There seems to be absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t become a national responsibility and the psychological barrier to south Wales, which is very damaging, could be removed.
Alun Cairns: I am governed by the Act of Parliament and the Act of Parliament will have struck a deal with the Severn Bridge company. We have an obligation in order to deliver that but I would hope that reducing the tolls by half is seen as a very positive step, although there will be a debt that remains outstanding. It demonstrates the scale of the project. We will be going out to consultation very shortly and that is an opportune time to respond directly to the questions that are included, such as what is the prospect of free flow traffic and the impact of that. There will be costs to administer that in itself, by the way.
Q96 Paul Flynn: You stand by the figure of £3.70?
Alun Cairns: I would say wait until the consultation goes out.