Scottish Government calls summit on public sector railways bid


Pressure over cancellations leads to move towards public run railway 

CRITICISM OF OVERCROWDING, high rail fares, and train break-downs has led the Scottish Government to call a railways summit to develop a public-sector bid for ScotRail services. 

The announcement was made in parliament today [Wednesday 23 November] by transport minister Humza Yousaf, who was making a statement following recent serious disruption to the rail network. 

ScotRail – run by Dutch firm Abellio – has struggled in 2016 with strikes, and persistent failures to meet targets on certain network lines. 

However, new powers in the Scotland Act 2016 provides the opportunity for a public sector firm to win future contracts for the railways – which would give the Scottish Government greater control and mean profits were reinvested. 

“To take this forward I have written to trade unions, party transport spokespersons, to regional transport partners to invite all partners to an initial round-table meeting next week”. Humza Yousaf

Yousaf told parliament that the Scottish Government had improved railways infrastructure, and that £5bn of further investment was planned for future years. 

He added that the government would also move forward with plans for a public sector bid for the railway franchise, with a first cross-party meeting on a bid planned for next week. 

“Any public sector bid would need to be tested in competition, so we can select the best option for Scotland’s passengers in an objective manner,” he said. 

“So we will use the powers we do have and follow through on our manifesto commitment to take steps for a level playing field on franchise commitments. 

“To take this forward I have written to trade unions, party transport spokespersons, to regional transport partners to invite all partners to an initial round-table meeting next week, where I will set out our approach and the legal powers and the potential options for a public sector operator.”

“I do see benefits in a public sector bid where profits are re-invested back into the railways,” he added. 

Interest grows in public sector bid for Scotland’s railways 

There is potentially a strong cross-part consensus between the SNP, Labour and the Greens to develop a public sector bid.

John Finnie, transport spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Greens have long called for Scotland's railways to be publicly-run as they are a public service. While we've yet to hear directly from the transport minister on this point, it is welcome that he has spoken of the need to prepare a public sector bid.

“In the short-term, passengers deserve action to improve the current dismal situation. Far too often commuters either have to stand all the way or they simply can't board a train due to overcrowding. Abellio need to understand that poor service is unacceptable, and that offers of compensation should be automatic and easy to complete.

“Public transport has been overlooked by the Scottish Government for too long. It's a shame it has taken till now for them to notice. Greens stand ready to offer constructive solutions to make Scotland’s railway the high quality public service it should be,” he added. 

Labour Transport Spokesperson Neil Bibby criticised Yousaf’s handling of the issue.

“This week the Minister claimed ScotRail wasn’t a poor service – passengers standing on overcrowded platforms, waiting for late running overpriced trains would beg to differ,” Bibby said.

“The facts are that Humza Yousaf demanded an improvement plan and then ScotRail services have become worse. His handling of the rail crisis has seen him fall out with Abellio, Network Rail and the transport unions.

“Humza Yousaf claimes he's not a transport expert – and he’s right. Humza Yousaf must ditch the spin and publish his 246 point improvement plan in full. He must also make a commitment to when services will get better – he said it would be March before targets are hit, that surely cannot be the case now.”

Bibby has called for progress towards a public consultation on a public sector bid. 

Picture courtesy of Derek Hoskins

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