South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has called on the SNP Green Government to take action to prevent a “tsunami of bus service cuts”, following the news that the current bus service between Dumfries and Edinburgh is set to end in August.
It is understood the current contract to run the service which runs out in August is subsidised by almost £300,000 from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWESTRANs) and Scottish Borders Council. Following a procurement process, tenders from bus firms came back 86% higher than the current service. The three authorities are now looking at alternatives for the service.
The current 101/102 services provides 12 services a day from Biggar to Edinburgh and 12 back on a Monday to Saturday, with four on a Sunday. There are four that begin in Dumfries with five back to the town from Edinburgh on a Monday to Saturday, and two each way on a Sunday. These are set to end when the current contract with Stagecoach finishes in August.
Colin Smyth has now written to the Scottish Government Transport Minister Jenny Gilruith warning that without action from the SNP Green Government, this cut will be one of many.
The local MSP believes this latest blow to bus services highlights the need for local councils to run their own bus services. He warned that while costs will have risen since current contracts was awarded, bus firms are now demanding “exuberant” subsidies to continue services.
As a result of amendments made to the Transport Bill in 2019 by Colin Smyth, Council’s now have powers to run services direct. However, the powers were only passed to councils this week and to date the Scottish Government have only announced funding for the whole of Scotland of £1m through a Community Bus Fund from April to cover the set up cost of such services. The local MSP wants the Government to provide short term support to meet increased tender prices for services while publicly owned bus firms are being set up, tougher conditions placed on private bus firms not to axe their commercial services if they receive any Government support and an acceleration of support to councils to cover the set up costs of their own bus services.
Colin Smyth said, “The likely end of the 101 service to Edinburgh is a bitter blow to bus users across the South of Scotland. It is damning indictment of the utter failure of the Green SNP Government when it comes to buses that there will be no longer be a bus link between Dumfries and our national capital from August. I have written to the Transport Minister Jenny Gilruith urging the Government to wake up to the crisis we face with a bus network that is being dismantled route by route. Let’s be clear this will just be one of many services that will come to an end soon unless we see additional support for bus services and an end to cuts to council funding.”
The local MSP criticised bus firms for skyrocketing hikes in tender bids for services and wants the Scottish Government to increase support to councils to run services direct instead of relying on private firms.
Colin Smyth added, “This current service is massively subsidised and despite cuts to council budgets by the Government, the almost £300,000 subsidy remained on the table for any new service. But with tenders from bus firms nearly twice the current price it’s clear providing the present level of service through private bus firms is near impossible in the face of cuts to council budgets by the Government. We urgently need a rethink in how services are provided and in my view that means the council running services direct. They now have the powers, but sadly the Scottish Government won’t give them the resources. Unless that changes we will soon see a tsunami of bus service cuts”.
The local MSP also criticised Scottish Borders council for cutting their share of support for the 101 service last year by £100,000 to just £35,000.
Colin Smyth added, “The hike in tender prices by private bus firms makes it almost impossible for councils and transport agencies to fully fund the increased cost of this service, but the gulf was made bigger by the decision of Scottish Borders council to cut their share of funding by £100,000 last year”.