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bus operator First, it’s “practical changes on the ground for the people of Glasgow that are needed, not a stale and out of date regulatory debate.”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.

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