Colin Smyth MSP
South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has expressed his fear that recent cuts to bus services are the “tip of the iceberg” with more cuts on the way as a result of the “double whammy” of a shortage of bus drivers and the axing of emergency grants to bus firms by the Scottish Government.
Last week the local MSP questioned Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth in the Scottish Parliament over the possible impact of the decision to withdraw the network support plus grant from bus companies.
The fund, which was put in place to support the industry through Covid, came to an end last month, with the industry saying soaring costs and passenger numbers not returning to pre-pandemic levels meant taking the grant away would have “severe consequences”.
The concerns over the loss of the grant come on the back of recent reports that a shortage of bus drivers was leading to cuts in service in some areas, with almost one in ten bus driver posts vacant across the UK. Scotland recorded the highest number of vacancies at 14%.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, Colin Smyth said: “The shortage of drivers is hitting services in the Borders, as can be seen from the frequency of the X95 service, but so too is funding.
“The minister will know that the 101/102 service between Dumfries and Edinburgh through Midlothian, Lanarkshire and the Borders is under threat because the tender for that service came in 90 per cent higher than the previous contract, for the very reasons, such as fuel prices, that she has mentioned.
“Does she (the Minister for Transport) think that more or fewer services will be under threat as a result of her decision to withdraw the network support grant plus from bus companies?”
Speaking after the session, Colin Smyth continued: “I really do fear that recent cuts to bus services are simply the tip of the iceberg, with more on the way. Bus firms are facing a double whammy of a shortage of bus drivers, primarily due to the impact of Brexit, as well as cuts to funding by the Scottish Government.
“Bus services across Scotland are still dealing with the aftermath of Covid but many of the issues they face existed long before the pandemic.
“Public transport is a public service and in my view, like all public services, should be publicly owned and run.
“Councils now have the powers to run their own bus services as a result of amendments I made to the Transport Act. The blockage is the Scottish Government who haven’t yet provided any funding for councils to do so.
“They need to understand the crisis our bus network faces, make funding available and allow councils to run buses direct or set up arms-length publicly owned bus firms so that we can have services that put passengers, not profits first.”