OPPOSITION parties have attacked Labour after a meeting to discuss one of the Welsh Assembly Government’s most vaunted policies was held in England.
Council representatives and bus operators from all over Wales travelled to Shrewsbury yesterday for a discussion about the concessionary fare scheme for pensioners.
The meeting was held in the Shropshire town’s council-run Gateway Education and Arts Centre.
One of the people invited to the meeting contacted the Western Mail to express their disgust.
The unnamed person said, “I couldn’t believe it when I was sent notice of this meeting. On previous occasions the committee has met in places like Cardiff, Abergavenny and Wrexham.
“It is really an admission of defeat when a meeting about transport in Wales has to be held in England, supposedly because it is the easiest place for people from North Wales and South Wales to come together.”
The meeting was organised in Shrewsbury by officials in the Assembly Government’s Department of Enterprise, Innovation and Networks, whose main remit is to promote business and prosperity in Wales.
The Gateway Education and Arts Centre, run by Shropshire County Council, advertises rooms for hire on its website for between £40 and £160, depending on the size of the room and the period of time it is booked for.
An Assembly Government spokesman said, “Since Shrewsbury is on the Wales and Borders line with direct services from North and South Wales, it was chosen as a convenient location to enable stakeholders to travel to the meeting easily by rail from North East and South East Wales.
“It also had a very economical venue available within about two minutes’ walk from the station.”
It takes just over two hours to travel by direct train to Shrewsbury from both Cardiff and Bangor.”
It has long been a complaint of people travelling by rail between North Wales and South Wales that they have to go through England.
The line that went north from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth shut in 1964 following the Beeching Report that recommended wholesale route closures across Britain.
Nevertheless, most all-Wales bodies hold meetings in Wales when it is necessary for representatives from across the country to come together.
Many are held in Cardiff because the bulk of the population is located within easy travelling distance of the capital. Llandrindod Wells and Builth Wells are also favoured by some bodies, as is Aberystwyth.
It is rare for all-Wales organisations to meet on the other side of the border.
Ieuan Wyn Jones, leader of Plaid Cymru, said, “If all businesses in Wales decided to arrange their meetings in England as they were more convenient and more cost-effective, it would cripple Welsh business and is a slap in the face for Welsh hotels and conference centres.
“This sets a disgracefully bad example to other businesses and agencies and it is unbelievable that the Labour Assembly Government itself is doing such a thing.
“Instead of holding meetings over the border, they should be doing their utmost to improve transport and other facilities in Wales and supporting Welsh business.”
Welsh Conservative enterprise spokesman Alun Cairns added, “I am simply aghast by the audacity of the Assembly Government in organising a meeting about transport outside of Wales because of poor transport facilities in Wales.
“The concessionary fare scheme is supported by all parties, and is one of the few successful policies of the Assembly Government.
“But to have a meeting of interested parties in England really takes the biscuit.”