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Freeze! Or should that be Πάγωμα?

Betsan Powys | 11:52 UK time, Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Welsh Conservatives are going for the Gavin and Stacey vote.

No, I haven't created a new Welsh version of "Mondeo Man" or even "Sitcom Bloke" Remember the episode where Gavin and Smithy drive through the toll barrier on the Severn Bridge because they can't scrape together that last 10p? Well the Welsh Conservatives have tweeted "a pledge to freeze the Severn Bridge toll for cars over the next Assembly term - no more annual price hikes".

Back in December of last year, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, chaired by Tory David Davies MP, warned that a freeze or reduction of the Severn Bridge tolls would mean incurring "significant costs".

They said, "Unfortunately, due to the inflexible provisions of the 1992 Severn Bridges Act, neither the Government nor Severn Crossing plc is able to freeze or reduce the toll without incurring significant costs."

However, the committee also recommended that tolling prices should be reduced and concessions for those who depend on the crossings for their livelihood could be introduced.

So could this be one of those (literally) cross border pledges that the Welsh Conservatives had to square with Whitehall before they dangled it in front of voters? We shall see.

The Tories have estimated the cost at £29m between now and 2015, paid for from consequentials to the Assembly Government from the 2011 UK Budget.

Since the select committee report would seem to indicate that changing the 1992 Act isn't an option, then it would seem the money would flow directly from the block grant to the bridge operators. A hmm on that from the other parties, perhaps?

And we've yet to hear from business groups who've been campaigning for toll reductions for lorries and vans - no cheer there from this proposal, it would seem.

Meanwhile, a colleague requests some details of the Tories tourism policies. The email, when it arrives from the press office, is more My Big Fat Greek Policy than Gavin and Stacey. Any translations welcome.


Maybe if more political issues were featured in wildly popular sitcoms, then they'd get the kind of instant reaction that the Tories bridge tolls announcement has.

First in was Plaid Cymru's reaction.

Freeze? Pah. Tolls down to £2 a car for us. It's not quite the dutch auction with the Tories that it seems however. The party would spend the period between now and public ownership in 2017 negotiating with the Department of Transport to bring responsibility for the bridges to the Assembly Government, which would then, and only then, be able to set the tolls at the much lower level. Yes, it may be jam tomorrow (or jam in 2017) but the party say this is better than pouring £30m or so of the Welsh block grant into the pockets of shareholders. You decide.

The Lib Dems were clearly taken with the Gavin and Stacey reference, if not with the Tory policy. A spokesman says, "Under these proposals, they may keep Smithy happy but Ness and the drivers of millions of trucks would still pay the tolls. The tax on doing business in Wales would remain."

Labour, too, are sniffy. A pittance, they say. Gesture politics.

A frosty reception for the freeze from the other parties but then again, they may not be representative of the voters out there.



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