09 December 2020

S5M-23117 Bus Services

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23117, in the name of Graham Simpson, on bus service cuts. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is concerned that hundreds of bus services in Scotland have been cut since March 2020; notes the support given to bus companies by the Scottish Government during the COVID-19 pandemic, but considers that, despite this, many parts of the country, including the Central Scotland region, have been left without an adequate service, and acknowledges that the Scottish Government has yet to commence Part 3 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 to allow local authorities to bring forward proposals for the provision of bus services in their area.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I thank Graham Simpson for bringing this subject to Parliament. I was green with envy to hear that there is a half-hourly bus service in his local area. In my local village, the only service is the 301, heading broadly east and west, and we would dearly love to have a half-hourly service. On one occasion when I wanted to catch a train, I travelled cross-country from the second village away on the only bus that was running on a Sunday. During my entire hour and a half on that bus, I was the only passenger. Bus services are important because they are important for individual passengers. The bus does not need to be filled for it to be an important service.

It is as well—particularly for Graham Simpson and those with his political viewpoint—to remind ourselves why we have a very successful municipally owned bus service in Edinburgh and why we basically do not have the same elsewhere in Scotland. It is simply because his political party caused bus services to be sold off.

I used the excellent Aberdeen bus service as a student, normally travelling on the number 10 route. It was a very effective, frequent and affordable service. However, it was sold off. Where did the profits from that go? They did not go back into Aberdeen to invest in bus services. Edinburgh managed to retain the asset in the form of the successful Lothian Buses, which I use on a not regular but not irregular basis.

If councils across Scotland or Strathclyde Partnership for Transport were to start their own bus companies, that would involve very substantial capital investments to recoup the amount of money that was given away, in essence, by privatising the previous municipal bus services.

I was astonished to hear Graham Simpson complaining that there are 50 private bus companies operating in Strathclyde—almost with the suggestion that he wants to replace them with one municipal one. I am not saying that I necessarily disagree with that proposal, but it is fundamentally more difficult than he was perhaps suggesting in his speech.

Another thing that Graham Simpson referred to, which is perfectly correct, is that there are ways to provide local support for bus services other than by running your own bus services, including by supporting individual routes. The one that I referred to, on which I travelled on a Sunday, was a council-supported route that would not be there if the council was not investing in it. A key question that we must ask ourselves, however, and to which I do not have the answer, is what the cost will be per passenger per journey for councils that support individual routes that are contracted to private operators, or community bus services for that matter, or that invest the substantial capital amount involved in setting up their own bus companies.

We are looking at the lack of—[Inaudible.]—Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. In relation to municipally owned and operated bus services, we need high standards of governance and supervision of what is quite a substantial undertaking for a local council to contemplate, so I am not hugely surprised that it will take a while to introduce the commencement order for that facility.

The subject is a very proper one to be brought to the Parliament, but I think that it might be more complex than Graham Simpson has perhaps provided for in his motion and in his speech.


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