The Welsh Labour Government are in disarray over the purchase and development of Cardiff Airport.
Recent events like the announcement of a direct bus route to Bristol Airport from South Wales, a cut in the money spent on promoting Wales abroad and the lack of a Welsh Government business plan before the announcement of the purchase of the airport paints a picture of confusion and chaos within the Welsh Government.
There are also concerns about the Welsh Labour Government’s ability to provide value for money for Welsh tax payers following previous unsuccessful and expensive projects.
While I agree that action must be taken to halt the worrying decline of Cardiff Airport, I am yet to be convinced that the Welsh Labour Government know how exactly why they are buying it and what to do with it. A freedom of information request by my office revealed that they had not developed an outline business case before launching the purchase process and that they have no outline plans for the development of the airport.
Welsh Liberal Democrats want to see a successful airport but any investment must give taxpayers value for money. We’ve seen too many examples in the past where the Welsh Labour Government has ploughed money into schemes only for them to turn into expensive money pits fraught with poor management or financial irregularities.
A viable forward plan for the airport must tackle its key business challenges which include accessibility issues and encouraging route development, but the Welsh Labour Government approach has been contradictory.
Over the weekend, the bus company, Greyhound, announced a direct South Wales coach route to Bristol Airport putting even more pressure on Cardiff Airport. It is quite clear that Bristol Airport is responding to the announcement that the Welsh Government wants to buy Cardiff Airport. The Welsh Government announced a direct bus route to Cardiff Airport in 2009 but still hasn’t managed to deliver. It appears that, yet again, the Welsh Labour Government has been out-manoeuvred by the private sector.
In terms of route development, one of the key ways in which a government can help attract new routes without falling foul of European state aid rules is to enter into marketing agreements with airlines coming into Wales. However, it was also revealed over the weekend that during the past five years, the amount of money spent by the Welsh government on marketing Wales abroad has declined significantly. They will have to reverse this decline in investment if they want to attract new business to the airport.
What I want to see is a strategic development plan for the airport setting out the challenges it faces and the practical steps that are going to be taken to overcome them.
If the Welsh Government wants to progress with the purchase of Cardiff Airport, they must be as open and as transparent as possible with Assembly Members and the people who will fund this purchase – the people of Wales. Time will tell what deal will be struck but I still have serious concerns about the Welsh Government’s naïve negotiating tactics, and what that means for the public purse.