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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Urgent Question, Economic Priorities, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Falklands War


Contents


Urgent Question

The next item of business is an urgent question.


ScotRail Timetable (Hampden)

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what provisions it is making for Scotland fans to get home after tonight’s Nations League match at Hampden against Armenia, in light of the reported announcement by ScotRail that they should leave early if they want to catch a train.

The Minister for Transport (Jenny Gilruth)

ScotRail Trains is responsible for operational planning and will always seek to provide the best service possible. However, it has advised that, on this occasion, it has not been possible to provide more than the reduced timetable. I know that that will be deeply frustrating for fans who are travelling to the Armenia match tonight.

As the member knows, rail services, and especially any additional services to support special events, rely on rest day working, which is voluntary, and relying on drivers working on their rest days is not sustainable, either for them or for our rail service.

The train drivers union, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen—ASLEF—is involved in a dispute with ScotRail in relation to pay. That is not formal industrial action, but it is true that drivers are choosing not to work on their rest days. That is their right, and I respect that. However, the reality is that that has made timetabling for tonight’s match incredibly challenging for ScotRail, and it has not been able to run an enhanced service, as happened with the match last week.

As members will be aware, ASLEF opted not to present ScotRail’s offer to its members after the two parties met last week. ScotRail has already indicated its disappointment and frustration at the situation. I understand that the parties are due to meet again tomorrow, and I will await an update on that. Clearly, we would all like to see the pay negotiations settled so that we can get back to providing a full rail service for passengers everywhere.

Graham Simpson

So, the answer is that no provisions have been made for fans to get home.

Football fans have been used to leaving matches early to beat the rush. In this case, they have been told to leave early because there is no rush—there are no trains. Does the minister agree that the situation is not acceptable? Would she like to apologise to the tartan army?

Jenny Gilruth

The temporary timetable that ScotRail has implemented gives passengers a more stable and reliable service. We know that people want certainty when they travel. ScotRail has looked at how best to provide as much certainty as it can during what has been, as we know, a very challenging period for passengers.

Traditionally, ScotRail carries far more supporters to Hampden games than it carries back from games. Last week, approximately 7,000 fans travelled to the Ukraine match by train, but only 2,500 travelled back by train. In general, fans prefer to walk back to the city centre. It is also worth saying that the crowd at tonight’s game is expected to be far smaller than the crowd for the Ukraine game. In addition, it is worth saying that the six unadvertised buses that were held on standby at Central station to support any onward travel issues after the Ukraine match last week were not used.

ScotRail has advised that there is not sufficient bus capacity available to support transport of the crowd from Hampden to Glasgow that a high-capacity rail service would accommodate. Replacement buses are procured to provide a substitute in the event of planned or unplanned disruption, in order to leave no gaps in the reduced timetable. However, to do so across the network at the current time would require the provision of an enormous fleet of buses at significant expense. If last week’s situation, in which 2,500 supporters returned to Glasgow, was to be replicated, a fleet of some 50 buses would be required, which would create its own transport issues in and around Hampden.

Given the wider industrial dispute that was announced yesterday, it is clear that rail users right across the United Kingdom will face serious disruption that is not of the Scottish Government’s making. The answer to the present situation is to resolve the dispute. To that end, I look forward to discussing the matter with ScotRail, after it has met ASLEF tomorrow. We all want the dispute to be resolved, not just for the passengers who will travel to the football match today, but for everyone in Scotland who uses our rail service.

Graham Simpson

My word—the minister’s answer to football fans who go to tonight’s game is, “Walk to the city centre.” There will be no alternative, unless they have taken their own car.

I am encouraged to hear that there will be talks tomorrow. I know that the minister has not bothered to dirty her hands by getting involved in the talks so far, but can she tell us how confident she is that the situation will be resolved tomorrow and that we will not have a summer of chaos?

Jenny Gilruth

Setting aside the member’s use of language, I remind him that I do not go into the negotiating room. It is appropriate for ScotRail, as the employer, to negotiate directly with the trade union. That is how we resolve industrial disputes.

I agree with the member that it is important that we achieve a resolution to the on-going dispute. Later today, I will seek an update from ScotRail on the challenges that are currently being faced. It is also important to reflect on the use of rest-day working. That is not a new practice that started on 1 April; it has been a feature of our railways for many years. Some in our railways may view it as an outdated concept. I would like to have conversations on such matters with our trade union partners.

I invite Mr Simpson to review his party’s engagement with the trade unions. Last week, his colleague Grant Shapps said that the UK Government was drawing up legislation to ban trade unions from going on strike. As the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress has noted, it appears that the Conservatives are looking to pick a fight with the rail unions.

The Scottish Government works with our trade union partners. We understand fair work principles and we advocate for our trade unions. On that note, I am very much looking forward to working with our railway unions to discuss our national conversation on public ownership of Scotland’s railways and how they can play a part in moving forward that vision.

I will take some supplementaries, starting with Neil Bibby.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

The Scottish Government has given Abellio a contract to provide rail replacement buses, but it appears that, yet again, there will be no rail replacement bus services to get fans home from Hampden tonight.

Yesterday, the minister refused to say how much Abellio is being paid. What is Abellio being paid to do? The minister has said that there is a shortage of buses to provide a rail replacement bus service, but ScotRail is not providing any buses to help passengers with the disruption. Is it seriously the Government’s position that there are no buses anywhere in Scotland that could be used to provide a rail replacement bus service for fans returning from Hampden tonight?

Jenny Gilruth

The matter was raised yesterday at topical question time, in relation to the four Abellio contracts that have continued over to allow for consistency in moving ScotRail into public ownership from 1 April.

ScotRail has confirmed that securing rail replacement buses has proved to be significantly more challenging than it was prior to the pandemic. A fall in the number of the available bus and taxi drivers, coinciding with greater demand as the economy has opened up after Covid, has meant that there is less availability across the country.

Our bus operators face a number of staffing pressures, not least Covid and, of course, Brexit, which Mr Bibby’s party now seems to support. We are already seeing bus operators having to make some really challenging decisions around where they are able to provide services.

I have asked ScotRail to consider at all times whether it is able to provide rail replacement services. On this occasion, it tells me that that is not the case.

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

As we all know, ScotRail’s temporary revised timetable is only one facet of industrial disputes that are taking place throughout the UK. Although the Scottish Government wants all parties to get round the table and negotiate a fair and affordable pay deal, it would seem that the Tories would rather use the dispute between the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and UK Network Rail to criminalise industrial action.

That dispute will have a detrimental impact on events such as football matches, as we know. What discussions has the minister had or will she have with Grant Shapps regarding the UK Government’s intended course of action for improving industrial relations in the rail sector?

Jenny Gilruth

As I reiterated today, unlike the Tories at Westminster, this Government supports fair work and we support the principle and practice of trade unions and the right of people to join a trade union. I am not surprised to hear the Conservatives ramping up their anti-union rhetoric, but, to be clear, that has no support from this Government and it could not be further from our approach of including and involving trade unions in our work, including the work on how we take forward Scotland’s railways.

I continue to engage with ScotRail, which, later this week, is engaging with ASLEF and the RMT to get back round the table and resolve the current dispute. Parties are working together to reach a resolution, whereas the UK Government appears to want to make industrial action illegal.

I have already written to Grant Shapps to make clear this Government’s view on the approach to the Network Rail dispute. I have also written to Network Rail to express this Government’s concerns surrounding any potential redundancies arising from its proposals, which of course we would not support. That was welcomed by the RMT.

I reiterate that I am appalled that Network Rail employees have had no pay rise for the past two years. That is not acceptable, and nor does it make any economic sense for Network Rail to seek to continue with that. We can only conclude that that is being done for political or ideological purposes. Based on what was reported last weekend, that is now clearly bearing fruit.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

In response to my questioning in committee, the minister told me that the key—indeed, the sole—change from nationalisation was that she would be accountable. Does the minister recognise the concerns of people who might think that, in refusing to step into the situation, she is abdicating that accountability?

Jenny Gilruth

I say to the member that I am accountable. I am here today, answering an urgent question. I was here yesterday, answering a topical question on rail. I was here the week before, answering a question on rail, and the week before that. He has absolute accountability from me—[Interruption.]

Minister.

—as transport minister—[Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Minister! Please resume your seat.

I would like a bit of calm from all parts of the chamber, so that we can hear the answer to the question that the member asked. Minister, please continue.

Jenny Gilruth

As I outlined in response to Mr Simpson, it would not be appropriate for me, as minister, to be in the negotiating room. To my mind, no ministers are ever in the negotiating room. It is appropriate in this instance for ScotRail to be in the negotiating room, as the employer, with our trade union partners. I look forward to their reaching a resolution, so that we can restore ScotRail’s full timetable, for the benefit of passengers and staff alike.

That concludes the urgent question. Before we move to the next item of business, we will have a short pause to allow front-bench teams to take their positions.