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

Launch event – Free Our City

A message from Free Our City

To address the climate emergency and tackle persistent poverty, hundreds of cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are making their public transport networks free for everyone to use. We think Glasgow should too!

Free Our City is a new coalition of community, trade union and environmental groups campaigning for Glasgow to be the next city to make its public transport free (see our leaflet attached).

If you would like to find out more, please join us for our free online conference & launch event on Saturday 19 September, 11am – 1pm

We’ll be joined by speakers from different cities around the world to share their experiences of campaigning for, implementing and living with the many benefits of free public transport. They’ll be opportunities to ask questions and breakout sessions to discuss how to develop, get involved in and work together to win the campaign in Greater Glasgow.

The event will be on Zoom. Please ensure you register in advance on Eventbrite, so we can email you the log-in details for the event. It will also be live streamed on Facebook.

Register for the event here: https://freebuses.eventbrite.com

We believe public transport in Glasgow should be free, but we want to hear what you think!

Free Our City

Scot.E3 is part of the Free Our City campaign which launches with a conference on 19th September. We’re demanding a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network for Glasgow – free at the point of use.

Over the last few years hundreds of forward-thinking cities across the world – from Kansas to Calais – are upgrading their public transport networks and making them free for everyone to use. This radical policy is a necessary one: to address the climate emergency and gross inequalities in our society.Free public transport benefits everyone, but especially those living on poverty pay or benefits, young people, women, black and ethnic minorities – who all rely on public transport more. In a city like Glasgow with such low car-ownership (49% of households), free public transport would have a dramatic effect in reducing social isolation and lifting people out of poverty.

Last year, Glasgow City Council agreed the ambitious target to reduce the city’s emissions to net-zero by 2030, and agreed to undertake a ‘formal assessment of the potential for making the transition to a public transport system that is free to use’.

The Free Our City coalition has been founded to ensure this ‘assessment’ becomes action, and that this policy becomes a reality sooner, rather than later. We don’t have time to waste. Reliance on private cars is the main cause of carbon emissions and toxic air pollution in our city. In order to meet the 2030 target, car mileage will have to be cut by as much as 60% in the next ten years [1]. We need to provide universal and comprehensive active travel and public transport networks, so that everyone can fully participate in the social and economic life of our city without need or aspiration to own a car.

Free public transport also has economic benefits which far outweigh the cost of running it – returning £1.70 to the economy for every £1 spent, [2] and it can pay for itself in increased tax receipts. But it is only practical and cost-effective to deliver with full public control of the whole public transport network [3]. We must therefore use all new powers available in the Transport Act 2019 to re-regulate our bus network (under ‘franchising’) and set up a publicly-owned bus company for Greater Glasgow to take over routes and reconnect the communities left stranded by private bus company cuts. 


Why now? 

The coronavirus crisis has proved that public transport is an essential public service to get our keyworkers to their jobs. It has also laid bare the absurdities of running our public transport on a for-profit basis. The need to maximise profits from fares is not compatible with current social distancing guidance. When services were reduced during lockdown, they ended up costing us more to run. The Scottish Government has already bailed-out failing private bus companies by more than £300 million. This should be an opportunity to buy back our buses, so that they can be run in the public good for the long term.

There are many ways to improve the safety of our public transport and public control is central to them all. If we own and run our own buses, then we control the safety for staff and passengers. We can improve pay, conditions and training for staff. And we can deliver far more frequent and reliable services for passengers to reduce overcrowding, and better plan the routes to speed-up journey times and minimise the need to change. We can upgrade the fleet to zero-emissions electric buses and make them more spacious, with air-conditioning and multiple entrances and exits [4].  Upgrading the fleet of Glasgow buses can be an opportunity to save Alexander Dennis, the world-leading bus production company based at Larbert, which is currently threatening to make 650 workers redundant because orders have slowed down through the coronavirus pandemic [5].

We need to use this crisis as an opportunity to build back a far better public transport network, which actually serves our needs and helps us meet the many challenges of the decade ahead. Once the pandemic has passed, we will be faced with a massive economic crisis and a climate emergency that is not going away.[

 Building a world-class, fully-integrated and accessible public transport network – free at the point of use – will provide the thousands of high quality, ready to go green jobs that we’ll urgently need for our city to make a just and green recovery [6].

Imagine if buses were free?

The Free Our City coalition is launching with a conference “Imagine if buses were free?” on Saturday 19th September. Speakers from other cities which have achieved free public transport will describe how their system works. We will discuss in break-out groups what we need in Greater Glasgow, and how we move forward to achieve it. The conference will be open to all, welcoming representatives of community organisations across Greater Glasgow and interested individuals to share in the discussion. Register for the conference on Eventbrite. Promote the conference by sharing the Facebook Event and the Event Tweet .


[1] During the crisis, publicly-controlled buses in London were made free so that passengers did not need to make contact with the driver to pay fares.

[2] By the end of 2020, as many as 1 in 3 young Scots could be unemployed as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

[3] ScotE3, 2020, Act Now: save lives, save jobs, save the planet

[4] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.2

[5] Jeff Turner, 2020, How Much Will Free Buses for Glasgow Cost and What are the Benefits?, p.1

[6] Transport for Quality of Life, 2019, A Radical Transport Response to the Climate Emergency, p.4