Scottish Government puts profit before people in public transport stitch up

Public transport campaigners in Glasgow have led the way in showing how a transport system that meets people’s needs is an important part of the transition to a zero carbon economy. Mike Downham explains why Glasgow City Council’s response to the campaign is desperately inadequate.

There’s a stitch up going on between the SNP Scottish Government (led by Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport) and the SNP Glasgow City Council, along with the Glasgow City Region Cabinet of eight local authorities (SNP Councillor Susan Aitken leads the former and chairs the latter).

First Glasgow bus 38225: Image by Calum Cape CC BY 2.0 

A remarkable article about this was published three days ago on the A Thousand Flowers blog.

It says, for example:

While the SNP have made the long overdue renationalisation of Scotrail one of the central themes of their current election campaign, they are actively inhibiting even tentative steps to reintroduce public control to the bus network.

And:

According to Glasgow’s dominant bus operator First, it’s “practical changes on the ground for the people of Glasgow that are needed, not a stale and out of date regulatory debate.” Here at 
ATF we would tend to disagree – questions of ownership, power and accountability are crucial to the functioning of any part of society, whether that’s football clubs or local buses. Scotland’s private bus operators have had three decades to show they can deliver a good service, and it’s been a resounding failure.
But while securing the power for local authorities to tackle this issue is all very well, if it isn’t resourced and worse still, actively undermined, then what’s the point? 

The Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 enabled and encouraged Local Authorities to explore three options – Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPS), Franchises, and Municipal Ownership. But in November last year the Scottish Government announced a £500 million Bus Partnership Fund, restricting the fund to the development by Local Transport Authorities of BSIPS. “The Bus Partnership Fund will complement the powers in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, enabling local authorities to work in partnership with bus operators, to develop and deliver ambitious schemes that incorporate bus priority measures”. The Government hasn’t even given guidelines for the exploration of Franchises or Municipal Ownership. Now Glasgow City Council is talking up their progress with a BSIP, as if Franchises and Municipal Ownership aren’t options – despite having previously committed to exploring all three options.

This sleight of hand, under cover of the public focus on Covid-19, is not only dishonest and utterly undemocratic – it’s potentially disastrous for the millions of people across Greater Glasgow who depend on bus transport and for whom the current system is both unfit for purpose and unaffordable. It amounts to another scandalous hand-out to the private bus companies.

Philip Alston, the UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke in March this year at the Get Glasgow Moving AGM, as a follow-up to his visit to Glasgow in 2018 to collect evidence for his report. He said three things about public transport: first that an efficient and free public transport system in Glasgow would be the most immediate and most realistic way to address Glasgow’s huge poverty and human rights issues; second that there were many examples internationally where this had been achieved through public, democratic control or ownership; and third that there were absolutely no examples internationally where a privately owned public transport system had met needs and rights.

Meanwhile Greater Manchester made history in March “by becoming the first UK city-region to commit to re-regulating its buses since Margaret Thatcher de-regulated them in 1986”, see this report on the Get Glasgow Moving website.

New Report – Green Jobs in Scotland

A report released today, written by Transition Economics for the STUC shows how the transition to a low or Zero carbon economy could create a large number of new jobs. The report’s findings underline the need for planning, public investment and public control and consequences if these steps are not taken.

New STUC report shows the potential for up to 367,000 green jobs in Scotland. However poor policy choices could see less than 131,000 jobs being created.

Written by Transition Economics, “Green Jobs In Scotland” looks at how energy, buildings, transport, manufacturing, waste, agriculture and land-use need to be decarbonised, and sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, as well as fair work and effective worker voice in these jobs. It finds:

  • Energy: The transition to zero-carbon energy could see 30,000 – 95,000 jobs created over 15+years. However, this will require a national energy generation company, local content rules, and upgrades to ports and manufacturing sites. Without policies like this we could see less than 16,000.
  • Buildings: Decarbonising buildings & broadband could see 61,000 – 136,000 jobs created over 10+years, plus a further 22,000 – 37,000 jobs over 3 years in building new social housing. This area holds the greatest potential for job creation but requires billions of investment – including in a street-by-street retrofitting programme run directly by Local Authorities.
  • Transport: Upgrading and expanding transport could see 26,000 – 60,000 jobs over 10+ years with a further 11,000-13,000 ongoing jobs in operations. However, this will require significant investment in municipally run electric buses, railways, shipping, cycle and walking infrastructure etc.
  • Manufacturing and Industry: Heavy industry is particularly hard to decarbonise but 5,000 – 9,000 jobs could be created in steel, CCS and re-manufacturing, while existing employment numbers in chemicals and refining could be protected. However, even achieving this will require investment in plant conversions and an industrial strategy to promote domestic manufacturing.
  • Waste: The circular economy and waste management could provide 17,000 – 23,500 jobs. But this needs policies to boost recycling capacity, improve waste collection, scale up the deposit and return scheme, develop tool libraries, expand reverse logistics services, and expand remanufacturing.
  • Land-Use and Agriculture: Greening land-use and agriculture could create 17,000 – 43,000 jobs over 12+ years. But this requires significant investment in reforestation and rewilding, alongside support for local organic farming and stronger enforcement of labour standards in Scottish agriculture.

The recommendations in the report span UK, Scottish and Local Government, with the scale of public investment required to meet climate targets and potential job levels exceeding what the Scottish Government alone can access under the current financial settlement. However, calls for a more active industrial strategy, far greater levels of public ownership and significant public investment noting that employment in Scotland’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy decreased in 2019.

You can read the full report here.

New Hope for BiFab?

It’s excellent news that the BiFab yard in Fife will reopen over the next few months with the prospect of 290 jobs working on the production of eight platforms for the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm project.  It’s a time for optimism but also a time for organising to ensure that this is not another false dawn. 

 Burntisland Fabrications yard at Methil by Bill Kasman CC BY-SA 2.0

Neart na Gaoithe is just 15km off the Fife coast.  When complete the windfarm will have 54 turbines generating enough electricity to power 375,000 homes.  54 turbines require 54 platforms, and it makes environmental sense to build these massive structures as close to the site as possible.  But BiFab will only be making eight, the others will be produced thousands of miles away.   

Announcements from the new private owners are positive about more orders in the pipeline, but we have heard this before – and back in 2017, prior to all production ending in early 2018 there were 1400 workers at BiFab.  There have been four wasted years.

We’ve argued on this site that the Methil yard should be a key part of the engineering infrastructure that’s needed to build a new sustainable, zero carbon economy.  The Methil, Burntisland and Arnish facilities can form part of the much more extensive network of sites required as we build an integrated, full-scale green energy economy.

We’ve also argued that the transition to the new economy we need so urgently can’t be left to the chaos and instability of the market. The workers at BiFab paid the price for the anarchy of the market in 2017/18.  To avoid this happening again, to guarantee jobs and a future for our children and grandchildren, we need public investment, public ownership, long term planning and democratic control.  

The ‘net zero’ con trick

Last month the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, together with Oil and Gas UK released the text of the North Sea Transition Deal.  We will look at this document in more detail in a future post. 

Suffice it to say that this is ‘transition’ that references the climate crisis, and talks about net zero, but is wholly driven by the interests of the oil industry.  The two big ticket items in the strategy are ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ and ‘Hydrogen’.  And although the document comes out of Westminster, the minutes of the North Sea Transition Forum that brings together the industry with the UK and Scottish governments, suggest that Holyrood is on board with the strategy. 

A case study on the Oil and Gas UK website illustrates the kind of thinking that informs the strategy.  The study is headlined 

Injecting new life into assets – Supporting Net-Zero goals and producing more oil. A novel polymer flooding agent is helping to improve field recovery rates and accelerate the energy transition process.

You may need to read those headlines a few times!  The new polymer makes it easier to extract the oil.  This reduces the amount of carbon emissions associated with the effort of extraction.  Oil is pumped faster, and more oil can be extracted from a given reservoir.  So, there’s a small reduction in emissions at the point of production and more oil released into the system.  The magic here is that we are not supposed to count this massively greater amount of carbon because the greenhouse gases will be captured (by as yet unavailable technology).  And, of course, the polymer is available now – the oil is being pumped now – and carbon capture may be available at some unknown point in the future.  

Check out Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26 which outlines action to cut through the greenwashing and magical thinking that currently characterises policy on transition from fossil fuels.

Photo by Snapper CC BY 2.o

Scot.E3’s campaigning pledge for COP26

With the delayed COP26 United Nations Climate talks scheduled for Glasgow in November the eyes of the world are on Scotland in 2021.

The Westminster and Holyrood governments aim to present themselves as international leaders in tackling the climate crisis.  However, the policy of both governments is to maximise economic recovery of North Sea oil and gas.  The Sea Change report shows how this policy is completely incompatible with keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees centigrade.   Oil and gas production needs to stop here in Scotland and worldwide.  At the same time the lives and livelihoods of those working in oil and gas must be protected.

We therefore demand:

  1. The immediate cessation of all new exploration, development and drilling activity in the British sector of the North Sea.
  2. A planned and phased end of oil and gas production in the North Sea that would ensure that activity ends by 2030.  
  3. The establishment of a publicly owned and democratically controlled Scottish Climate Service with a five-year target to create 100,000 climate jobs. The SCS would for new investments in the production, distribution and storage of renewable energy and Scotland wide projects, for example, retrofitting homes and offices to high insulation standards and district heating.
  4. Guaranteed employment and retraining with the SCS for all oil and gas workers whose jobs end as a result of decommissioning.

We would like individuals and organisations to discuss the pledge, support and campaign for it.  If you, or your organisation, would like to add your name to the list of supporters, please email Scot.E3 at triple.e.scot@gmail.com .  You can use the form on our contact page if you wish.  The list of signatories is here.Please get in touch If you would like someone from Scot.E3 to speak at a discussion on the issues that the pledge raises

A Material Transition

War on Want’s new report ‘A Material Transition’ exposes the environmental destruction and human rights abuses that mining for renewable energy could unleash. The climate crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and rampant global inequality all have their roots in our resource-intense society.

The report highlights what can be done to avert this devastation and sets out a pathway for a globally just energy future: respect for the rights of affected communities, ensuring just and fair supply chains, and a reduction to harm for workers and the need for new resource extraction.

We’d like to publish a review of this report please get in touch if you would like to submit one.