The Information Commissioner has finally forced the Welsh Government to reveal the full extent of its lies over alleged congestion on the M4 motorway around Newport, following a 9-month battle for the truth. Just to be clear, the information published in a nondescript pdf on the government's website (that I think violates the spirit, if not the letter of the Act) isn't the same as the information we received. Our spreadsheet was much more informative.
So what does it tell us?
I've done a bit of number crunching for you (table at the bottom of the article). You’ll see that there’s a grand total of 166 different permutations of junctions, directions, times of day and months. But as you go down the list, you'll notice a few points of interest.
Firstly, these are all the average capacity figures for the M4 around Newport at peak times. That is, these are data for the peak morning and afternoon rush hour periods. That means that the entire rest of the time, the motorway is less busy than these figures.
Secondly, some of the combinations of junctions, times and seasons mean that at peak times the motorway is as little as 46% full. Hey, why didn't the Welsh Government tell us that statistic?!
Thirdly, the motorway around Newport is, on average, 76% full at peak times. That's somewhat below the terrifying '80%' threshold that the Welsh Government tells us will lead traffic to "expect operational problems". But most intriguingly, it's way, way below the next item of particular interest in the table, which is the 95% figure the Welsh Government told us the M4 was struggling under, back in September 2015. For those of us with short memories, here's the Welsh Government's 'statistic'.
That's because of the way it went about choosing the 'statistic' to use. You'll see in the second table (all the way at the bottom of this article) that once the months were averaged out, there were 24 different possibilities to choose from. The Welsh Government could have chosen a different way to do this - for example, taking the figure in the middle of the heap. But it decided to take the very highest of all of these figures and use it as the definitive value in its public information displays. It could equally have used the value of 49% using an identical methodology.
So why would the Welsh Government put out information that was untrue?
Or it might do so if the Minister of the time Edwina Hart - who approved the publication of these figures - or the Project Director - who directly assessed these figures - wanted to put a particular spin on the public information displays.
So let's recap for a moment. The Welsh Government spent nearly £300,000 parading an exhibition around southern Wales, telling anyone who would listen that the M4 around Newport is 95% full (along with a string of other lies), when the actual figure for peak times is around 20 percentage points lower. The figure was assessed and selected for use by the Project Director out of 166 possible combinations, and approved by the Minister at the time.
Someone, somewhere needs to be held accountable for deliberately deceiving the people of Wales. And I'm sure the Wales Audit Office will be interested to examine whether or not the expenditure on these exhibitions was value for money.
I've consistently said 'the Welsh Government' did these things. But actually these decisions were taken by people, like you and me. People who are paid to be truthful and to act in the public service.
Their failure to do so is nothing short of a disgrace.
We now have a new Welsh Government. The new Minister, Ken Skates, promised last week to "make the right decisions". He has a golden opportunity to make the right decisions on the M4.
Firstly to publish all necessary information relating to these exhibitions and to explain how the previous government got it so wrong.
And secondly, to cancel the project. To understand that building a new motorway takes us very much against the direction of a sustainable future. And that expenditure of more than £2bn on a single, short stretch of highway in one corner of Wales indebts future generations to the caprice of a bygone, discredited age of 'predict and provide'.