At last... a bridge that truly connects
The news that has dominated the Welsh business agenda this month is the announcement by the UK Government that the Severn Bridge tolls will be scrapped by the end of 2018.
This is an amazing boost to the Welsh economy and a development that will have an enormous positive impact on the Celtic Manor Resort and almost every other business in South Wales.
The £6.70 toll has achieved black humour levels of notoriety among visitors to Celtic Manor but many of their jokes and laughed-off complaints reveal a genuine resentment for having to pay such a high levy for such a main route.
I meet many business people from Bristol and the surrounding area and it always surprises me how many of them tell me they had thought about popping over for a game of golf or a dinner or even an overnight stay, but they eventually decide to go elsewhere “because you don’t have to pay for the Bridge”.
The toll has made something that should be a connecting tool, a bridge, into something that divides people, a barrier, so it is brilliant news that the charges are going to be totally abolished next year.
If it deters the visitors who are such an important part of our customer base, the bridge has an even more detrimental effect on our ability to recruit staff from just over the border.
This is where the cost does amount to more than a psychological barrier - £6.70 a day is a significant deduction from your earnings, especially for staff joining us at an entry level so it seriously affects our ability to recruit people who might well live closer to Celtic Manor than Cardiff.
Recruitment is already a challenge for us with an expanding workforce of more than 1,000 people in an industry which is traditionally transient and at a time of high employment, so removing the negative impact of the toll will be very welcome.
The impact of the toll is even greater on some of our suppliers and many other Welsh businesses: haulage and transport companies, for example, and those manufacturers or suppliers who export most of their business to England.
The toll charges for commercial vehicles are, of course, more expensive than they are for cars and for transport industries which are already taxed heavily at the fuel pump, this is a considerable additional burden.
The abolition of the tolls may bring some concerns like increased traffic leading to even more pressure on the Brynglas Tunnels and accelerating the need to build the M4 Relief Road. On the whole, however, this is probably the single greatest piece of news we could have had to boost the Welsh economy and it cannot come quickly enough.
The actual pledge to abolish the tolls by end of 2018 is particularly timely for us as we open the International Convention Centre Wales in a joint venture partnership with the Welsh Government in 2019.
A toll-free bridge is perhaps the best welcome mat we can lay down for the many thousands of delegates who will be crossing the border to take advantage of our fantastic new facility.