Glasgow Trade Unionists organise for COP26 and beyond

Stuart Graham writes about how trade unionists in Glasgow are organising for COP26 and beyond

Glasgow Trades Union Council (GTUC) attended the STUC Trades Councils conference on Sat 30 January and had requested that a session was added to deal with COP26 and the required level of mobilisation for the Nov summit.  Consequently 2 of the Glasgow delegates led the session to discuss the work started on one campaign (Free Our City campaign for free public transport) and the intention to devise another (along similar coalition-building type lines) around a retrofitting agenda for the city.  The opportunity to engage with Glasgow City Council on these issues has been presented by the fact that GCC declared a climate emergency in June 2019, published a list of recommendations from the Climate Emergency Working Group that considered the response and has subsequently undertaken public consultations on transport and the wider Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).  While these are not always going to provide the desired solutions (indeed the transport proposals are particularly frustrating at this stage) this does provide some kind of opening to initiate genuine social dialogue and discuss what social protections are actually needed in the process of just transition. However, we need to ensure that such social dialogue remains genuine and capable of being a two-way conversation and not just a monologue with the option to tell the council in question how much you agree or disagree with an already defined endpoint.

As the provision of renewably-powered, free public transport is one of the significant, societal transformations that the Free Our City coalition (which includes GTUC) has identified as capable of delivering the just transition to a low carbon/carbon neutral economy, GTUC will be meeting with trades councils from the local authorities surrounding Glasgow to devise a common approach to take to the politicians which sit on the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet.  Bus service provision in Greater Glasgow cuts across local authority boundaries to such an extent that we will require a common mobilising agenda that is also capable of being adapted as we go.  Whether we view this solely from the perspective of municipal bus transit for a domestic population, or consider the amount of visitors we may be hosting come November (if the covid-19 vaccine roll-out permits an in-person attendance at COP26 that we were expecting pre-pandemic), we need to continue to make the case that the Bus Service Improvement Programmes (BSIPs) that continue to subsidise private companies like First Bus and Stagecoach, with public funds, are neither good enough nor capable of delivering what bus users across Greater Glasgow need.  Therefore irrespective of the current or anticipated positions of the various administrations which make up the Strathclyde Regional Cabinet, part of any campaign on public transport/buses needs to have the demand for public ownership and democratic control at its centre.  Public sector job creation – as drivers or mechanics as well that offered through renewables-focused supply lines – would also result from re-municipalization. 

GTUC are in the early stages of devising a local retrofitting campaign too and are watching with interest the progress of and obstacles to Leeds TUC’s retrofitting report and recommendations. Carbon emissions from domestic energy use/consumption remains a significant contribution to the city’s overall emissions levels, and while GCC’s CEIP has a commitment to a retrofitting programme, it is nowhere at the scale or level of ambition which will be required to retrofit all of the city’s homes, which will have different specifications depending on property types, ranging from multi-storey flats to tenemental and four-in-a-block properties.  While still in its very early stages, what is known about the scale of the retrofitting task ahead of us all, is that it has massive, public sector job creation potential and this is what we want to see.  Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs created to carry out the deep retrofitting of all homes, with the associated training available to those who want to work in this sector, as well as for those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic or are finding it particularly difficult as they are younger workers with little to no work experience because of the lack of real job opportunities (both pre- and mid-pandemic) and being forced into precarious work.  We will once again attempt to do so through coalition-building, and hope that Living Rent will also be one of the coalition partners due to its status and work as the only tenants union in the city.  

We appreciate that the priorities detailed are specific to Glasgow/Greater Glasgow and rely upon the demands of urban societies/economies.  And we know that some of the more rural local authorities/trades councils eg. Highlands & Islands, will have significantly differing demands, including a greater reliance on electrical vehicles.  Once known, these aspects can be better articulated, but will take some time to properly assess.  However, the proposal is to use one, other or both campaigns as a mobilising template or impetus which trades councils can then use to build coalitions and bespoke campaigning agendas around.  Transport and housing affect everyone – so the aim is to try and harness the energy that type of appeal can bring as a common mobilising agenda across trades councils.  Scottish trades councils will be meeting more regularly throughout 2021 under these and other auspices, to bring their affiliates under the banner of the COP26 coalition and call for more participation and action at all levels, and as we (in Glasgow at least) will definitely be here for the Nov summit, to build for it as if we are expecting a million people are (still?) coming to town.

Free Our City

Scot.E3 is a sponsor and supporter of Free Our City – the campaign for free public transport in Glasgow. This is the campaign’s response to a consultation by Glasgow City Council.

Dear Sustainable Glasgow team,

Please accept this as Free Our City’s response to your consultation on the Climate Emergency Implementation Plan.

Founded in September 2020, Free Our City is a new coalition of community organisations, local trade unions and environmental groups, campaigning for a world class, fully-integrated public transport network which is free and the point of use.

Free public transport is already in place in hundreds of forward-thinking towns and cities across the world from Tallinn in Estonia, Calais in France and Kansas City in the US – where this policy is rightly seen as the only realistic way of addressing persistent poverty and inequalities and tackling the climate emergency with the urgency that we need.

The Free Our City coalition’s aim is to bring these brilliant examples from around the world to Glasgow, to raise our city’s ambitions (please read our manifesto attached). We were inspired by the Recommendations of the Climate Emergency Working Group (CEWG), which were approved by Glasgow City Council on 26 September 2019. These included the commitment to:


“engage with interested local authorities and other stakeholders and undertake a formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use” (Recommendation 20)

As well as the commitments to investigate the new powers available in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 – for re-regulating buses using ‘franchising’ and for greater public ownership – as the most efficient and affordable way to deliver a fully-integrated public transport network, with the potential to become fare-free (Recommendations 17 and 19).

Responding to the launch of Free Our City in September 2020, a spokesperson for Glasgow City Council acknowledged that without utilising these new powers, free public transport would not be “viable”. They said:


“At the very least, it would require public ownership – the alternative being taxpayers write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service.” Quoted in The Herald, 6 September 2020

Further to this, on 29 October 2020, Glasgow City Council approved a motion “welcoming” the Free Our City campaign (see full text below). We therefore fully-expected the CEWG’s Recommendations on public transport to be at the heart of the “major transformative action” proposed by the Council’s Climate Emergency Implementation Plan (CEIP).

Unfortunately, the CEIP’s proposed actions on transport lack any ambition. Instead of the CEWG’s Recommendations to fully-utilise the new powers available in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, the CEIP has opted to ‘explore these issues’ through:


“ongoing work on Bus Service Improvement Partnerships, as required by the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 and Transport Scotland funding programmes.” (p.60)

Firstly, it is untrue that Bus Service Improvement Partnerships (BSIPs) are “required” by the Transport Act: BSIPs are just one of several options now available to local authorities, and they are the one least likely to deliver the changes we need. Despite the excellent Recommendations of the CEWG, and previous commitments made in the Council’s Strategic Plan (Priority 57), the Council appears to be actively choosing the option to “write a blank cheque for private operators, with little say in the service”.

Nowhere in the CEIP is there any indication of the need to regulate and reduce bus fares, when it is obvious that this is what is necessary to “tackle persistent issues of poverty and deprivation in the city” (p.12) and build a “just and more equal city” (p.7), and to encourage those accustomed to driving to give up their cars. Fare reductions on the scale that we need are just not possible through the ‘partnership’ model, as private operators will never voluntarily agree to anything that threatens their shareholders’ profit.

Why should Glasgow’s poorest people be faced with single bus fares of £2.50 on privatised First Glasgow, when fares in Edinburgh are only £1.80 on publicly-owned Lothian Buses, and fares in London are only £1.50 on buses regulated by Transport for London? And when people in Kansas City, Tallinn, Calais, Dunkirk and many other places can travel around their local areas for free?

We fundamentally reject the CEIP’s proposed actions on transport. Instead we demand that the Council works with SPT to deliver the following actions that are the our route map to the free public transport that we need:

  1. Re-regulate the region’s buses using new ‘franchising’ powers – plan the network properly to reach isolated communities and to integrate seamlessly with other transport modes (trains and Subway). Impose an immediate cap on fares.
  2. Set-up a new publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow and start taking over routes one-by-one, or buy-out First Glasgow. 
  3. Once costs have been brought under control, we can begin to roll out free fares for all (we currently give more than £300 million in public subsidies to private bus companies annually in Scotland and deregulation and privatisation is a really inefficient way of using this).


Unless the Council actually commits to the “major transformative action” necessary to sort out our incoherent and overpriced public transport network – learning from the best examples from towns and cities around the world – then the ambition to become “one of the most sustainable cities in Europe” (p.6) is just laughable.

We look forward to hearing the outcomes of the consultation and to seeing the Council act to deliver a public transport network which works in the interests of our city’s people and our environment.

Best wishes,

Free Our City