17 June 2010

S3M-6195 Glasgow's Subway

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 June 2010

[The Presiding Officer opened the meeting at 09:15]
... ... ...
Glasgow's Subway

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6195, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on securing the future of Glasgow's subway.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes Strathclyde Partnership for Transport's decision to go ahead with its modernisation plan; recognises the important role that the subway plays in Glasgow's transport infrastructure and its significance to Scotland, carrying an estimated 14 million passengers annually; notes that this will be the first major investment project for the service since the 1970s, and hopes that the proposals receive the support that they need to go ahead and that the modernisation keeps Glasgow moving into the future.

... ... ...

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

It is true that we are discussing the clockwork orange, but this one is a little less toxic than the cinematic version. It is clear that members throughout the chamber are deeply in love with this little toy train in Glasgow.

For Charlie Gordon's benefit, I say that, as a minister, I have travelled on Glasgow's subway on a number of occasions. Indeed, I travelled by train from Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street station and then by subway, wearing my dickey bow tie and full evening gear, to speak at a dinner in Glasgow, and I returned by the same method, without more than 60 or so Glaswegians attempting to make fun of my garb. That is less than the usual number, but people in Glasgow are gallus, engaging and very distinctive, and we can apply that description equally to the Glasgow underground.

Pauline McNeill referred to the record number of 69,000 people who used the underground during the last papal visit. I have seen that we are going to have to find parking for nearly 1,600 buses for the next one, and that is only the first indication of the issues that will engage Glasgow police, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government during the months of preparation for the papal visit in September.

Pauline McNeill also talked about the modernisation of working practices, and it might be worth making the point to Robert Brown that no one drives the trains in the subway. The people who are at the front of the trains are there simply to open and close the doors. However, there are successful examples of improving and modernising working practices.

Pauline McNeill referred to a request from SPT for £6 million a year from the Government for 10 years to pay the interest on the money for the modernisation work. I should point out that, during our discussions, it emerged that the necessary funding would be £6 million a year for 30 years. However, we should not place too much emphasis on that as an inhibitor to making progress.

The issue of the operating hours of the subway was referred to by a number of members.

Sandra White referred to the need for a smart card system. I have talked to SPT about that. We are already using the international ITSO standard for the card for the bus concession scheme. We are extending its use, and it is being used in the smart card pilot on the ScotRail system between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I recently wrote to one of my opposite numbers at Westminster who is engaged with the subject of smart cards, and I suggested that the logical thing to do would be to adopt what is an international standard and a card that is capable of carrying a significant number of different services. For example, the card could be a library card for local authorities. Indeed, it could carry commercial services, as well as enable people to access and pay for public services. There is momentum behind that.

Patricia Ferguson quite astonished me, I have to say. She is wearing much better than I thought she was. I did not realise that she was old enough to remember the previous system. She is wearing her years well. I am afraid that, although I am pretty confident that I am substantially in advance of her in years, I came to the subway post its modernisation 30 years ago.

Patricia Ferguson: I point out to the minister that I did mention that I found the subway interesting as a child.

Stewart Stevenson: Indeed. No discourtesy of any kind was intended. Anything that I said was meant to be a compliment rather than a discourtesy. I ask the member to be absolutely confident about that.

Bob Doris talked about the tourist and conference market and made an interesting point. When most of us go to a strange city, we sniff out the local transport options, because we tend not to have taken a car with us. We tend to travel by public transport, whereas at home things might be different. Bob Doris said—I paraphrase—that the subway needs TLC. I wish that I had had an opportunity to walk through the tunnels at midnight. I hope that somebody is listening. You never know. There is probably a gap in my diary somewhere.

Pauline McNeill: It could be arranged.

Stewart Stevenson: Yes—I have a suspicion.

Bob Doris also mentioned governance issues at SPT. I will not say much about that. Whatever concerns we have about that, I think that we can successfully detach the subject of the subway from any governance issues that remain to be dealt with. We will, of course, keep an eye on them.

I am slightly cautious about alternative ownership options, because I am conscious that, in changing the ownership structure of our ferry companies, we incurred a substantial tax bill when we transferred assets from one company to another. My memory is that the bill was of the order of £11 million. Although there is something to be looked at there, we need to be cautious and ensure that we get value for money.

Bill Aitken had his schoolboy reminiscences as well, and talked about mathematics, which is a subject that is relatively close to my heart.

Robert Brown made the important point that the Government has a role in facilitating SPT's access to capital while not creating an unnecessary burden on central Government. That is exactly the kind of engagement that we are having with the subway. It might often just be a question of guarantors or the visibility of Government engagement—we will see.

Gil Paterson loves our subway. I hope that he loves other people as well. Patrick Harvie correctly pointed to the distinctiveness of the Glasgow subway, which creates its charm. Charlie Gordon pointed to the thrawn nature of the Glaswegians who would not give up the name that they treasured. Fibre optic technology is, of course, important. Christopher Harvie bravely navigated away from the subject several times but always came back. I admire that utterly.

It is too early for the Government to give a commitment to support the project financially, but I assure members that we will continue to work closely with SPT to ensure that all the options have been explored on financing, on the technical issues and on the best way in which to deliver and manage Glasgow's subway, so that it can continue for a long time to come to provide a vital transport service to Glasgow, the west of Scotland and people from further afield.

Meeting closed at 17:59.

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