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Chamber and committees

Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Subordinate Legislation, Transfer of Operation of ScotRail


Subordinate Legislation

National Bus Travel Concession Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Order 2022 [Draft]

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is consideration of a piece of draft subordinate legislation. I welcome Jenny Gilruth, the Minister for Transport, and her officials: Heather Auld, solicitor, Scottish Government; and Tom Davy, head of bus strategy and concessions policy, and Debbie Walker, business and operations manager, Transport Scotland. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us.

As the instrument has been laid under the affirmative procedure, the Parliament must approve it before it comes into force. Following this evidence-taking session, the committee will be invited to consider a motion to approve the instrument.

I invite the minister to make a short opening statement.

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to discuss the draft order. The order sets the reimbursement rate and capped level of funding for the national bus travel concession scheme for older and disabled persons in 2022-23 as well as the reimbursement rate for the national bus travel concession scheme for young persons in the coming financial year. In doing so, it gives effect to an agreement that we reached back in December with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents Scottish bus operators.

The order’s objective is to enable operators to continue to be reimbursed for journeys that are made under both schemes after the expiry of the current reimbursement provisions on 31 March 2022. It specifies their reimbursement rates and the capped level of funding for the older and disabled persons scheme for the next financial year from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023. The order is therefore limited to the coming year.

Due to the on-going impact of Covid-19 on bus passenger numbers and the continuing uncertainty about the coming year, it has not been possible to undertake the usual analysis and forecasting that underpin the annual revision of the reimbursement rates and the cap for the older and disabled persons scheme. As a result, the funding cap and reimbursement rate for the scheme have been retained from the previous financial year, with the reimbursement rate in 2022-23 set at 55.9 per cent of the adult single fare and the funding capped at £226.1 million. Those figures are the same as the corresponding figures for 2021-22. We think that, in practice, claims will be substantially less than the capped level, because of the continuing impact of the pandemic on patronage.

For the young persons scheme, the reimbursement rates have also been retained from 2021-22, at 43.6 per cent of the adult single fare for journeys made by passengers aged five to 15 and 81.2 per cent for journeys made by 16 to 21-year-olds. As in 2021-22, a budget cap is not being set for the young persons scheme in 2022-23. We believe that the rates are consistent with the aim set out in the legislation establishing both schemes that bus operators should be no better and no worse off as a result of participating in them. The rates will also provide a welcome degree of stability for bus operators.

As we know, free bus travel enables people to access local services and gain from the health benefits of a more active lifestyle, and it will also help strengthen our response to the climate emergency and support our green recovery by embedding sustainable travel habits in young people. The order provides for those benefits to continue for another year on a basis that is fair to operators and affordable to taxpayers.

I commend the order to the committee, and I am happy to answer any questions that members might have.

Thank you, minister. Liam Kerr will ask the first question.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

Thank you for bringing the instrument to the committee, minister, but I just want to clarify something with you. Yesterday, BBC North East Scotland reported that, in a debate on Aberdeen City Council’s budget, the Scottish National Party group proposed the removal of, I think, £180,000 from the under-22s free bus travel fund to spend on other things. I had not appreciated that it was possible to move that funding elsewhere. As far as you are aware, is that possible and, if so, was that really intended when the scheme was introduced?

Jenny Gilruth

I am not sighted on the detail of the specific example that Mr Kerr has highlighted, and I do not know whether officials know any more about it. However, we are happy to come back to him on the specifics. As Mr Kerr will be aware, this is a national scheme, but I do not want to say too much, as I am not aware of the news article or the debate that he cited with regard to Aberdeen City Council. As I have said, I am more than happy to write to him about the specific details of the scheme.

Do you want to come in on that, Tom?

Tom Davy (Transport Scotland)

I am not familiar with the incident that Mr Kerr has highlighted, either, but I can say that, under the scheme, we are obligated to pay operators the rates that are set out in the order for passengers who are carried under it. That is the case, regardless of budget. No matter how many people operators carry next financial year under the young persons scheme, we are obligated to pay the percentage rates that are set out in the order. In that sense, we have a fixed statutory obligation to make payments, and it cannot be changed without changing the scheme itself.

A separate question is how much we expect that to amount to in budgetary terms over the next year. That is a slightly different matter, but it does not affect the scheme and what we are obliged to do under it.

I would be grateful if you would come back to me on that, minister. It seems to have been as much of a surprise to you as it was to me.

I am happy to do so.

The Convener

As members have no more questions, we move to item 3, which is formal consideration of motion S6M-02903. Only the minister and members may speak in this debate—to the extent that there is one—and I invite the minister to speak to and/or simply move the motion.

Motion moved,

That the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee recommends that the National Bus Travel Concession Schemes (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Scotland) Order 2022 [draft] be approved.—[Jenny Gilruth]

Motion agreed to.

The Convener

The committee will report on the outcome of the instrument in due course. Do members agree to delegate to me, as convener, authority to approve a draft of the report for publication?

Members indicated agreement.

The Convener

I thank the minister and her officials for coming. I briefly suspend the meeting for a changeover of witnesses.

09:39 Meeting suspended.  

09:44 On resuming—