Just before Christmas we discovered that the First Minister of Wales, The Rt Hon. Carwyn Jones AM had bought the nation an unexpected Christmas gift – an airport.
Well to say he’s bought it is jumping the gun slightly, what he and the Welsh Government have done is to enter into an ‘Exclusive relationship’ with the airport’s owners – Abertis to buy it. This is of course without consulting the Assembly, without revealing the price he’s offered, without revealing a business plan for the airports future, or without even stating what his government is planning on doing with it or who he plans to let run it.
As the Welsh Liberal Democrat’s Shadow Economy and Transport Minister, I have no philosophical objections to an airport being in state ownership. There are plenty of examples of it working well elsewhere, alongside plenty of examples of private ownership also being effective.
What matters to me is the impact of decisions we take, as politicians, on the world outside the political bubble. In this case there are three main tests;
● Can passengers expect a greater range of flights and a better quality of service?
● Will it have a positive impact on the economy of South Wales?
● Does it represent good value for money for Welsh taxpayers?
At this moment in time, there is no evidence to satisfy me on any of these points.
Over the past year, the First Minister of Wales has used every opportunity to run down Cardiff Airport and its management. While he may feel this was a clever move, driving the potential price of the airport down, it will also have acted to scare away any airlines interested in running flights from Cardiff (after all, even the local politicians think it’s a terrible airport) and to scare off any potential private investors. What private investor would want to buy an airport that is humiliated in public and subject to so much political interference?
At the end of the day, the First Minister’s immoderate rhetoric over the past year has led to only two possible options being viable – Abertis pulling out without an alternative buyer (and thereby shutting the airport) or forcing Carwyn to buy it.
As Abertis only bought Cardiff Airport as part of a deal with the far more lucrative Luton, I think we can say that precious few tears are being shed over this in Barcelona right now. In fact, Abertis have washed their hands of a business that, in the apparent opinion of the First Minister, they didn’t have a lot of interest in and have now got the first minister of Wales over a barrel in terms of price, having promised to buy it before he agreed a price.
Until I see evidence to the contrary, I’d say that was game set and match to Abertis.
This afternoon I shall be contributing to a debate in the National Assembly, questioning the Governments announcement.