Glasgow’s retrofit programme: rival agendas 

We’re very pleased to publish this post by Les Levidow, Open University, les.levidow@open.ac.uk

With the slogan, ‘Our Climate:Our Homes’, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) led a multi-stakeholder proposal for a ‘whole house retrofit’ approach for decarbonising heat in homes.  It included civil society groups such as the Poverty Alliance, Living Rent tenants’ organizations and Friends of the Earth.  They jointly demanded substantial funds and new state structures, especially a National Infrastructure Company and municipal energy companies.  This plan would provide numerous unionised, green jobs for high-quality retrofits.  These measures would be necessary to avoid the limitations and failures of the UK government’s retrofit initiative (STUC, 2021).  

This extended a previous proposal, coordinated by Common Weal (2019 et al.). It contributed to a broader plan: a ‘Green New Deal for Scotland’.   As regards the institutional means, ‘genuine public-good private-public partnerships should be developed, but government should also intervene directly where it needs to’ (Common Weal, 2019: 104).   This section draws on an interview with two authors of those reports (Stuart Graham of the Glasgow TUC and Craig Dalzell of Common Weal, 10.03.2022). 

For an adequate retrofit programme, a major obstacle has been Glasgow’s neoliberal policy framework, dating from at least the 1980s. It has structured public expenditure as new markets aiming to incentivise entrepreneurialism and to attract business investment.  This framework had generally diminished decision-making capacity of the public sector (Boyle et al., 2008).  Given that neoliberal framework of the local authority, its retrofitting plan soon conflicted with the labour movement agenda prioritising the public good. 

Glasgow. Arden. Housing estate. Kyleakin Road. 10 January 2016. CC BY-SA 4.0

In 2021 the Scottish government funded  the Glasgow City Region to retrofit homes and substitute renewable energy systems for natural gas. Sufficient for a half-million houses, the funds were meant for jointly addressing fuel poverty, heat efficiency and decarbonisation (Sandlands, 2021).   Glasgow City Region announced an ambitious plan to retrofit the housing stock by 2032 (Glasgow City Region, 2021a).  This was part of the Glasgow Green Deal, which promised many benefits such as ‘ensuring a fairer and more equal economy’ (Glasgow City Council, 2021).  

Glasgow City Council organised a 3-day event raising several challenges of a retrofit programme.  According to the Council, suitable technology was already available to scale up retrofit. But the programme would need ‘collaboration between government, industry and training providers to realise Glasgow’s aspiration of carbon neutrality by 2030’.  An initial pilot was to retrofit the city’s iconic tenement blocks. For the Low Carbon Homes agenda, the Council’s experts mentioned issues such as social justice and fuel poverty (LCH, 2021).  The plans for Glasgow to host CoP26 in November 2021 intensified debate on decarbonisation, strengthening the impetus for the government’s plans and promises. 

Neoliberal obstacles

Their institutional framework posed several obstacles to a worthwhile, credible retrofit programme.  A full retrofit programme may need until at least 2040. Yet the Scottish government made a firm financial commitment only for the 2021-2026 Parliamentary term.  

This short timescale provided a weak incentive for business investment in the necessary skills and local manufacturing capacity, whose gaps were well known (CXC, 2022).  According to a retrofit programme manager, ‘The existing short-term funding streams do not give businesses the long-term confidence of a multi-year pipeline of work that will encourage the acceleration and expansion of business investment in the skills of their staff and manufacturing capability (Glasgow City Region, 2021b: 2).   Under those inadequate arrangements, a retrofit programme would depend on the current long supply chains, especially imported expertise, equipment and materials.  Alternatively, the government could make a commitment to create local manufacturing capability, as a crucial basis to realise the local economic and environmental benefits (Common Weal, 2019a).

Energy performance standards were also weak or doubtful.   Initial negotiations with contractors agreed pilot projects at a high standard of energy efficiency, such as Passivhaus in some cases (Paciaroni, 2021; Wilson, 2021).  By contrast, the overall programme set a minimal standard, Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) level C.  This would mean upgrading approximately a half-million units that were at a lower standard.  

However, this basis would not guarantee any specific standard in practice.  According to some experts, the EPC is simply an administrative compliance method,  not an energy efficiency measure or predictor, partly because the outcome depends on each householder’s behaviour (quoted in LGHPC, 2021: 6).  Whatever the modest gain, it may be superseded later by a higher standard, thus requiring an extra upgrade at a greater overall cost. 

A comprehensive programme would need householders’ enthusiasm, based on seeing initial retrofits visibly saving heat costs  in other households.  This has been one reason for a ‘fabric first’ approach, i.e. installing effective insulation before alternative heat sources in order to maximise  their benefit from the start.  This is necessary but insufficient because a ‘fabric first’ approach prioritises technical considerations.  By contrast, ‘an occupant-centred “folk first” approach may justify overcoming financial and related barriers which themselves do far more to restrict the choice of options for improving energy efficiency’ (CommonWeal et al., 2019: 3).

Such barriers feature the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) level C.  Why did Glasgow’s programme adopt this?   As one driver,  a minimal standard simplifies competitive tendering, the wider neoliberal regime which has driven the overall retrofit programme. This creates competition among organizations that instead could cooperatively raise standards on a case-by-case basis.  According to a housing association, ‘The funding is not being allocated strategically. Funding is still allocated through a bid process, which means that we are competing against other organisations’ (quoted in LGHPC, 2021: 19).  According to the relevant Minister, ‘innovative collective models of transition may play an important role in increasing the pace of retrofit’ (Harvie, 2022). Yet any such model has been constrained by the regime of competitive tendering, which can be understood as a techno-market fix. 

As a related obstacle, a competitive call  favours large foreign companies with administrative capacity for the necessary documentation but perhaps minimal standards for energy efficiency.  Price competition can drive down quality in practice.  Competitive tendering excludes and/or fragments small local suppliers which have skills for higher standards. This arrangement deters the large-scale cooperative programme that would be necessary for the greater skills investment, mutual learning and differentiated approach to the diverse building types (Glasgow TUC-Common Weal interview, 10.03.2022).  In those ways the programme’s public-good benefits have been limited by Glasgow’s decades-old neoliberal regime (Boyle et al., 2008; Webb,  2019). 

Like many cities, Glasgow has lacked the skills for normal repair and maintenance of the housing stock, much less for new skills.  So a strong incentive would be necessary for workers to learn retrofitting skills.  As the labour movement proposal had said, ‘Scaling up delivery poses a huge skills challenge, particularly given the large number of self-employed contractors understandably reluctant to take time out of being paid to learn new skills’ (STUC, 2021: 3).  

In 2021 Glasgow initiated such a training programme, but it had little take-up, for several reasons.  The Scottish government’s low, short-term financial commitment has provided a weak incentive for building-trades workers  to take up the opportunity. As a plausible disadvantageous scenario, some workers who already have building skills (such as electricians or plumbers) could obtain retrofit training, find that the programme is short-lived and then have difficulties returning to their original trade.  Such doubts have been voiced as reasons for little interest in the training opportunity (Glasgow TUC-Common Weal interview, 10.03.2022).

Public-good alternative

In 2019 Common Weal, a Scottish ‘think and do tank’, had anticipated such obstacles and so proposed a comprehensive decarbonisation plan.  It lay within a broader Common Home Plan, also called a Green New Deal for Scotland.  This would provide a comprehensive alternative to Glasgow’s techno-market fix.

As a key message of the Common Home Plan,  

You’re not powerless…..  We’re going to show how a Green New Deal for Scotland will not just save the world but will benefit our country, our communities and you individually. Better food, better homes, better jobs, cleaner air, less waster and pollution and an economy based on repairing the things that we need rather than throwing away things that we don’t need….   By leading as an example, by coming up with the solutions and then exporting our skills and our innovations to others we can bring the word with us rather than sitting back or asking the world to stop so that we can catch up (Source News, 2019).

Rather than try to drive GDP growth, this plan promotes an economy of sufficiency.  It invites people to help create the necessary innovation, which prioritises repair, refurbishment, digital services and better resource use (Common Weal, 2019).  

For decarbonising heat in houses, the plan identified many ways to replace natural gas, reduce GHG emissions and address fuel poverty.  Ideally, district heating systems would distribute surplus heat at low cost.  Heat pumps would have a stronger rationale in rural areas, though also a wider relevance.  By contrast, the gas industry agenda for CCS-hydrogen ‘poses serious risks to the decarbonisation of Scottish energy supplies’ (Common Weal et al., 2019: 8). 

Image by Pete Cannell – Air Source Heat Pump on Shetland CC0

This had significant differences from prevalent decarbonisation agendas.  While they depend on  future techno-solutions, this one is ‘based almost entirely on current or old technology’.  The dominant ‘market-pricing-and-subsidy regime’ would increase inequality, so this plan emphasises public-sector responsibility (ibid: 11).  This change would be necessary so that state procurement becomes a true public service,  beyond the transactional-based profit-oriented economy.

Its plan outlined many inherent complexities of decarbonising heat in houses, as stronger grounds for state-led institutional change, in particular: ‘Set up a National Housing Company to retrofit all existing houses to achieve 70-90 per cent thermal efficiency. Change building regulations and invest in domestic supply chains to make almost all new construction materials in Scotland either organic or recycled’ (Common Weal, 2019: 39).  

It also made specific proposals for low-carbon heat sources.   Given several disadvantages of electricity-based heat, the report promoted district heating systems as cheap, viable means to deliver renewable heat to homes (Common Weal, 2020b). For both those aspects, public-sector responsibility would be necessary to implement effective solutions and overcome potential obstacles, as the reports emphasised. 

Those proposals had anticipated limitations that later arose in the Scottish government’s 2021 retrofit programme and Glasgow City Region’s role.  In response, the labour movement network tried to persuade the Scottish government to establish the necessary long-term commitment, higher standards and institutional framework, including a National Infrastructure body for overall decarbonisation. Likewise they tried to persuade the City Council to replace the competitive tendering regime with  a more flexible basis that would facilitate more diverse bids and raise quality standards. 

Although technical studies per se cannot overcome the problem, they can help identify institutional weaknesses and policy obstacles.  Solutions need political changes which can drive economic change towards shorter, high-quality supply chains supporting long-term skilled livelihoods.  The necessary political changes would depend on a high-profile campaign that links issues such as labour standards, housing quality, environmental protection, fuel poverty, etc.  

As a potential means to link such groups and issues, the campaign ScotE3 (employment, energy and environment) was already advocating climate jobs within a Just Transition framework.  It was initiated by trade unionists  and climate activists, ‘keen to find a way of taking climate action into workplaces and working class communities’.  Alongside its positive proposals are attacks on false solutions, especially a CCS-hydrogen technofix for decarbonising fossil fuels.  The latter has been a basis for the North Sea Transition Deal,  endorsed by the Scottish government (Scot.E3, 2021).   

Scotland has a special opportunity for a socially just, environmentally sustainable decarbonisation agenda. This is partly due to its devolution arrangements, with a larger budget and greater legal powers than the UK’s regional authorities.   Yet the Scottish government has made false promises, such as through its neoliberal retrofit framework or hypothetical technofixes, thereby avoiding responsibility for decarbonisation.  By default, these promises may be accepted by a passive public – unless opposed by a strong alliance for climate justice.

As the Glasgow case shows, a Green (New) Deal has become a widespread banner, attracting divergent agendas for a retrofit programme.  These promote divergent sociotechnical forms, linking technical standards with different social orders, especially a rivalry between market-competition versus community-worker cooperation.  To realise the potential benefits, a public-good agenda would need to undermine and displace the dominant policy framework.  

Author’s note

This blog piece comes from my book chapter on Green New Deal agendas.  It starts by comparing US and UK nation-wide agendas, especially trade-union pressures to endorse false solutions (also in Levidow, 2022).  Then it analyses GND local agendas to decarbonise heat by retrofitting houses, e,.g. from Leeds Trades Council (2020), followed by the Glasgow case – as below. 

Book details: Les Levidow, Beyond Climate Fixes: From Public Controversy to System Change, forthcoming from Bristol University Press, 2023, 
https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/beyond-climate-fixes

References

Boyle, M., McWilliams, C. and Rice, G. 2008.  The spatialities of actually existing neoliberalism in Glasgow, 1977 to present, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 90(4) 313-325. 

Common Weal. 2019.  Our Common Home: A Green New Deal for Scotland
https://commonweal.scot/index.php/building-green-new-deal-scotland

Common Weal et al. 2019.   The Future of Low Carbon Heat for Off-Gas Buildings: a call for evidence.  Glasgow:  Common Weal, Glasgow Caledonian University, and the Energy Poverty Research Initiative, https://commonweal.scot/index.php/policy-library/future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings

Common Weal. 2020a. The Common Home Plan: Homes and buildingshttps://commonweal.scot/our-common-home/homes-buildings

Common Weal. 2020b. The Common Home Plan: Heating,   https://commonweal.scot/our-common-home/heating

CXC. 2022. Clean Heat and Energy Efficiency Workforce Assessment.  Edinburgh: ClimateExchange, Clean Heat and Energy Efficiency Workforce Assessment (climatexchange.org.uk)

Glasgow City Council. 2021.  Glasgow Green Deal: Our roadmap and call for ideas

Glasgow City Region. 2021a.  Home Energy Retrofit Programme, 
https://invest-glasgow.foleon.com/igpubs/glasgow-greenprint-for-investment/glasgow-city-region-home-energy-retrofit-programme/      (Note: webpage indicates no date, so guessing that it is 2021).

Glasgow City Region. 2021b.  Home Energy Retrofit Final Report: Next Steps, Home Energy Retrofit Programme, https://invest-glasgow.foleon.com/igpubs/glasgow-greenprint-for-investment/glasgow-city-region-home-energy-retrofit-programme/

Harvie, P. 2022.  Letter from the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights to the Convener , 11 January, Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee,  Scottish Parliament, https://www.parliament.scot/chamber-and-committees/committees/current-and-previous-committees/session-6-local-government-housing-and-planning/correspondence/2022/retrofitting-housing-for-net-zero-january-2022  

LCH. 2021. Pre-COP26, we revisit Glasgow’s retrofit scene, Low Carbon Homes, 24 May,  https://www.lowcarbonhomes.uk/news/retrofit-revisited-glasgow/

Leeds Trades Council. 2020.   Retrofit Leeds homes with high-quality insulation and heat pumps:  a plan and call to  action!, Leeds Trades Council, https://leedstuc.files.wordpress.com/2020/09/draft-document-decarbonising-leeds-homes-with-a-huge-programme-of-deep-retrofitting-and-installation-of-heat-pumps..pdf

Levidow, L.  2022.  Green New Deals: what shapes Green and Deal?,  Capitalism Nature Socialism (CNS), https://doi.org/10.1080/10455752.2022.2062675  (free download).

LGHPC.  2021. Retrofitting Housing For Net Zero.   Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, 30 November 2021.  Edinburgh: Scottish Parliament. 

PAC. 2021.   Green Homes Grant Voucher Scheme.  London: UK Parliament: Public Accounts Committee, https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/127/public-accounts-committee/news/159264/pac-report-green-homes-grant-scheme-underperformed-badly/

Paciaroni, S. 2021.  Springfield Cross: Low carbon social housing project takes shape Glasgow’s East End, Glasgow Times, 8 November, https://www.glasgowtimes.co.uk/news/19701701.springfield-cross-low-carbon-social-housing-project-takes-shape-glasgows-east-end/

Sandlands, D. 2021. Massive’ energy retrofit programme could target over 420,000 homes across Glasgow, Glasgow Live, 11 April,  https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/glasgow-energy-refit-housing-programme-20360138

Scot.E3.  2021.   Briefing #13: The Use & Abuse of Hydrogenhttps://scote3.files.wordpress.com/2021/12/briefing-13.pdf

Source News. 2019.  A Green New Deal for Scotland,  https://sourcenews.scot/a-green-new-deal-for-scotland/

STUC. 2021.  Our Climate: Our Homes.  Scottish Trades Union Congress, https://stuc.org.uk/files/campaigns/Homes/Our-Homes_briefing.pdf

Webb,  J. 2019.  New lamps for old: financialised governance of cities and clean energy, Journal of Cultural Economy 12(4):  286-298.   

Wilson, C. 2021.  COP26: ‘Green’ tenement plan could cut fuel bills by 80%, Herald Scotland, 10 November, https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/19705494.cop26-green-tenement-plan-cut-fuel-bills-80/

Marching for climate justice

Despite wind and heavy rain one hundred thousand people marched in Glasgow yesterday. They were joined by hundreds of thousands more at over 300 locations around the world. Here’s a visual record of the Glasgow march. Thanks to Graham Checkley for the pictures and video.

And here’s an overview of the whole march from our friends at REEL News

Free Our City – protest

There will be a protest on Tuesday 8th June at 12 noon in George Square against Glasgow City Council’s stealthy collusion with the Scottish Government in a last-ditch attempt to block the introduction of a new free bus service across Greater Glasgow – for details see this post.

Free, decarbonised, integrated, Covid-safe, publicly owned, worker-and-user-controlled public transport is the most immediately possible and effective way to address all elements of the current crisis – climate, Covid, poverty, exclusion, inequality.

The time and date of the protest have been timed to coincide with a critical Council meeting on its Climate Emergency Implementation Plan

Please turn up and spread the word. Wear masks and observe social distancing.

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

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