Improving the M4 could be a step nearer as Carwyn Jones revealed he had been told that borrowing powers for the Welsh Government may be included in a Westminster Bill announced last week.
Business leaders and motorists’ groups have called for a relief road to be build south of the existing motorway to alleviate bottlenecks at the Brynglas tunnels in Newport.
Such a road would cost around £1bn, and would have to be funded by borrowing. At present, however, and unlike the UK, Scottish and Northern Ireland administrations, the Welsh Government has no borrowing powers. Getting them will require legislation at Westminster.
During his monthly media briefing, the First Minister said he had been told by Leader of the Commons Andrew Lansley that borrowing powers for Wales could be included in the Wales Bill announced in the Queen’s speech last week.
Mr Jones said: “Borrowing powers are very important to us. Without them, big infrastructure projects just won’t go ahead in Wales. Wales is currently the only part of the UK without borrowing powers, and that’s not fair.”
Mr Jones said it wasn’t a question of getting borrowing powers specifically to improve the M4, but to have them available, within prescribed limits, for projects that deserved to go ahead.
The First Minister also said that Welsh control of the Severn Bridges would lead to a reduction in tolls,
The Welsh Government has long called for powers over the two structures to be devolved to Wales. Mr Jones has branded the current set-up unfair and insists all profits from the bridges should not be handed over to England.
He told journalists: “We expect a decent deal with regard to the Severn Bridge. It cannot be right the people of Wales are charged to come into their own country – paying a toll set in London, in toll booths that are actually in Wales.
“And all those proceeds of those tolls are being solely used for roads in England. Clearly that is not right, nor is it equitable. We seek a fair deal with the UK Government in order to deal with the tolls.
“We think the toll could be reduced – it couldn’t be eliminated, that would mean we were left with an enormous hole in our budget.
“But we would look to see if there could be greater flexibility and scope to reduce the toll and by how much. Any surplus we would used on upgrading the rest of the M4.”
Mr Jones also announced a series of trade missions aimed at boosting Welsh exports to the global marketplace.
Buoyed by figures that showed a 122% increase in the number of inward investment projects in Wales during 2012-13 in comparison with the previous year – 67, creating 7,640 jobs – Mr Jones said it was important to capitalise on such momentum.
“We shall be taking our message to the United States, closely followed by Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore,” he said.
Asked how he accounted for the rise in inward investment following a number of years when attracting overseas investors had not been so successful, Mr Jones said that previous decisions to decrease the number of overseas representatives of the Welsh Government may have been partly responsible. Wales now had people located in appropriate places like Dublin, San Francisco, China, Japan and Brussels.
The First Minister defended the Welsh Government’s decision to buy Cardiff Airport, saying: “Whenever I meet people abroad who may be considering investing in Wales, they always ask me, ‘Do you have an airport?’ It’s very important to people’s perception of Wales.
“If we didn’t have an airport, it would give potential investors the impression that Wales was in the back of beyond.
“But we don’t want Cardiff Airport as a toy. We are absolutely committed to its playing an important role in helping to bring prosperity to Wales.”