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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 February 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, ScotRail, Coronavirus (Discretionary Compensation for Self-isolation) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Members’ Expenses Scheme, Standing Order Rule Changes, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commemoration



The next item of business is a statement by Jenny Gilruth on ScotRail: a new beginning. The minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


Almost a year ago, on 17 March 2021, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson, advised Parliament that, at the conclusion of the current franchise, ScotRail services would be provided within the public sector by the operator of last resort: an arm’s-length company owned and controlled by the Scottish Government. The current franchising system was clearly no longer fit for purpose.

At that time, there was considerable uncertainty arising from the on-going Covid pandemic and continuing delays to the publication of the UK Government’s white paper on rail reform. A detailed assessment of the options that were available for ScotRail was undertaken and it was decided that it would not be appropriate to award another franchise agreement to any party at this time.

Today, I can confirm that the transition of ScotRail into Scottish Government control will take place on 1 April 2022. Although that is good news, it is clear that much work still needs to be done, in a collaborative way, to ensure the long-term sustainability of rail operations in Scotland, to best meet the needs of the people whom we represent.

The pandemic has changed the way in which people travel. Its impact on travel patterns has been substantial. At one point, revenue in passenger services dropped to less than 10 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. That means that the rail industry must adapt to reflect customer need. That is particularly important as we strive to achieve our ambitious decarbonisation and net zero targets.

It is worth lifting our heads on that point. For countries in the European Union, the largest decrease in the number of rail passengers was in Ireland, where numbers dropped by 74 per cent during the pandemic compared with the fourth quarter of 2019—a fall of 9.5 million passengers. In Greece, the reduction was 68 per cent, or 3.8 million passengers, and in Italy the reduction was 61 per cent, or 144 million passengers. In Great Britain, passenger use remains far lower than it was before the pandemic, with 248 million journeys this quarter, which is just over half the 448 million journeys that were made at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020.

Although it is good that nearly half of our rail passengers have returned to ScotRail services, it is clear that travel patterns, purchasing habits and passenger demands are very different from those that existed pre-pandemic. People are now more likely to travel for leisure. The shift to hybrid working will change that to some degree, but it is likely that more people will continue to work from home for at least part of the week, now and in future. Weekends, rather than the weekday commuter periods, are now the busiest times for rail travel.

The travelling public are voting with their feet. We need to ensure that the railways reflect that direction of travel. We need to deliver rail services at the times when and in the ways in which people want to use them. Our publicly owned ScotRail will put passengers’ needs and interests at the heart of all that it does.

Bringing train operators into public control is not new. Indeed, the United Kingdom and Welsh Governments have found themselves in similar positions, with three train operating companies in England and one in Wales now under public sector control.

Change is also not new in relation to rail operations in Scotland. We have seen the benefits that change can bring in the freight sector, where new ways have been found to ensure the viability of operations as freight customer demands have changed. Environmentally sustainable movements of groceries for major retailers have replaced coal travelling to power stations. In Scotland, rail freight volumes are already returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Despite those examples of positive change, it is understandable that any change can cause uncertainty and concern. That is why, today, I want to kick-start a national conversation about what our new beginning for ScotRail should look like—an affordable, sustainable, customer-focused rail passenger service in Scotland in a post-pandemic world.

Just last week, I heard colleagues from Opposition benches raise concerns about passenger services post 1 April. They raised concerns about timetables, ticket offices, rail fares and terms and conditions for staff. I also heard many positive comments from members about the opportunities that the transition into Scottish Government ownership presents.

I told Parliament last week that I would listen. To that end, at the core of this statement to Parliament today is an invitation to all members who have a genuine interest in the future of ScotRail to get involved and to work with me to shape the change that needs to happen. I am happy to meet representatives of all parties, and my private office has already extended an invitation to Opposition spokespeople.

Change will happen on 1 April, so my invitation to all members today is this: let us have a conversation about that change and let us work together to influence how it happens. After all, we all want a railway that delivers for our constituents.

As I mentioned last week, our rail staff have a vital role to play in shaping and delivering a successful future railway for Scotland. As so many of our essential workers did, ScotRail staff—and, indeed, all our rail workers—went above and beyond throughout the pandemic. We will always be grateful to them for all that they did to keep our rail services running during these challenging past two years.

I make clear today that we want to take ScotRail’s staff with us on this journey into Scottish Government ownership. That is why this invitation is also extended to the rail unions. As members might recall from last week, I will meet the trade unions tomorrow afternoon. We know that the unions are passionate about the industry, as is evident from their report “A Vision for Scotland’s Railways”. Through open and frank discussion, we can work together to harness their aspirations for the future. I look forward to tomorrow’s conversations.

There was much discussion about the vision for Scotland’s railways last week in the chamber. Let me be absolutely clear: our vision for rail is of a thriving industry that meets the needs of passengers and is sustainable in the long term. To meet our climate change targets and our aim of reducing car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030, we need Scotland’s railways. An efficient, effective, productive and profitable railway is critical to our mission zero ambition for transport. We want ScotRail to deliver the rail services that the people of Scotland, and the generations yet to come, need and deserve.

There is no doubt that the immediate future for rail services is challenging. That means that we need to do all that we can in the short and medium terms to encourage more people to travel by rail, while also delivering rail services more efficiently. We provided around £1 billion of support throughout the pandemic, including more than £550 million of additional funding for the ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises via the current emergency measures agreements, to ensure the sustainability of Scotland’s rail services, give security of employment for rail staff and cover necessary operating costs.

However, we have to be pragmatic. That level of funding is not sustainable in the longer term, nor is it desirable. Success for Scotland’s rail services in the future includes ensuring that they deliver public value and generate increased revenue. This Government is investing significantly in decarbonising our rail services. In the past 10 years, we have invested around £1 billion in 441km of track electrification and associated infrastructure improvements, directly benefiting more than 35 million passenger journeys across Scotland each year.

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, more than 75 per cent of passenger journeys on ScotRail were being made on net zero-emission trains. We want to exceed that through our investment in decarbonisation. A successful demand-focused railway has a huge part to play in delivering a truly integrated decarbonised transport system for Scotland. However, to be truly integrated, rail needs to play a much bigger part in the overall transport system than it does at present. That is the future that we want the new ScotRail to help to deliver.

We also want it to be an exemplar public sector company. Its culture will be founded on fair work, and it will be expected to embed the fair work framework and fair work first into its policies, processes and practices. The new company will, like most other public sector arm’s-length operations, benefit from the public sector pay policy.

There has been much discussion around no compulsory redundancies as part of the engagement with trade unions in advance of staff transferring on 1 April. As I said last week, I recognise that a new body such as ScotRail Trains Ltd will not have an existing agreement on no compulsory redundancies in place, but I expect there to be negotiations on that as part of the public sector pay policy discussions, which are crucial to the change that is needed.

The new beginning for ScotRail will be built on strong foundations. This Government invested at record levels to improve connectivity and increase the number of trains across Scotland’s network. Since 2009, we have reconnected 14 communities to the rail network through reversal of the Beeching cuts, and, in the next three years, Reston, East Linton, Dalcross, Cameron Bridge and Leven will follow.

As part of strategic transport projects review 2, further strategic projects are planned in the next 20 years, including electrification of the Glasgow Central to Barrhead and East Kilbride routes, which are the most advanced, and the Borders and Fife lines are being developed as a priority. Electrification will encourage more freight off the roads and on to rail.

All our investment in passenger services seeks to encourage more people to choose to travel by train, and to enjoy doing so. However, to do that, people need to feel safe to return to public transport. Let us be clear that some of those issues do not relate to the Covid pandemic. It is important that everyone—passengers and workers—feel safe in our stations and travelling on our railways. That is why I fully understand the concerns that have been raised around the ticket office consultation, for example.

However, safety is not just about what happens on station platforms. Passengers should be able to make end-to-end journeys without being fearful and without the threat of intimidation, verbal and physical abuse or violence. Antisocial behaviour on any part of our rail infrastructure, but particularly on trains and in stations, is unacceptable. For some years, the Scottish Government has worked with our policing and industry partners to reduce such behaviour and crime on Scotland’s railways. That has included addressing alcohol-related incidents not only with a greater officer presence in hot spots and at key times, but also with direct measures to reduce alcohol consumption on trains. We have supplemented the previous ban on alcohol consumption on trains at night with a blanket ban during the pandemic. That ban is being kept under review.

ScotRail and the British Transport Police meet regularly to discuss the impacts of antisocial behaviour and abuse against passengers and staff. Although British Transport Police officers cannot travel on all services, they target potentially problematic services as part of their regular measures to drive down crime on our railways.

I met ScotRail only yesterday afternoon and I heard more about the travel safe team, which was launched in October last year. The team members were recruited from across ScotRail and bring with them a wealth of experience working in front-line, customer-facing roles in our stations and on our trains. That is the sort of public-facing initiative that we should be encouraging, because we know that when staff are deployed in teams, even just their presence can act as a deterrent, helping to keep the public safe.

Much was said last week, as I mentioned, in relation to potential ticket office closures but particularly about women’s safety in train stations. I want to be very clear that I take the issue of women’s safety on public transport extremely seriously. However, that is not just about our station platforms or ticket offices—it is about the walk to the station; it is about the journey on the train home; it is about making sure that you do not catch the last train to Fife because it is full of drunk men who will squeeze in beside you, despite the fact that you are surrounded by empty seats and are sitting quietly with your headphones on, and who, when you get up the gumption to move seats, as the woman across the aisle from you has done, will shout at you for daring to escape. “I’m only having a laugh,” he says as he shunts his leg against yours and you hope that he does not follow with his friend when you move away.

Let me say to those on the Opposition benches, but particularly to the male Opposition members who last week wanted to tell me about women’s safety on our trains—I know all about it. I have been there. It is a systemic problem and it is not just about our ticket offices; it is about all the places on our public transport networks where women are scared to go because of men’s behaviour.

As we look to the vision for Scotland’s new railway, we have many choices to make, but I want our railways to be safe places for women to travel. We need to identify, as a Government, where it is that women feel unsafe on our public transport systems and then identify how we are going to fix it. To that end, I am announcing that we will be consulting with women and women’s organisations across the country to better understand their experiences and therefore how we can improve our public transport system to make it safer and more enjoyable for them to use.

There will be wider partners involved in that work. I will seek to engage with the British Transport Police, for example, which has recently launched a campaign against sexual harassment. That follows data that was commissioned by YouGov during the pandemic, which showed that over half of women in London had been subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour while travelling on public transport—I repeat: over half. Crucially, it will also include the rail unions and employees, because I know that it matters to staff, too.

Scotland’s new railway might look exactly the same in a few weeks’ time—the trains will still be branded with ScotRail’s logo—but we need a sea change in the vision to propel us forward. It will be sustainable, efficient and responsive to the needs of the public. It will be a system that looks after our rail workers and that invests in their skills and talents.

Today, I have set out the inclusive approach that, as transport minister, I intend to take to that end. I will work with parties across the chamber in this endeavour, because getting public ownership of our trains right is important to the people of this country. Encouraging the people of Scotland to choose to travel locally and further afield by train—for work, training, education, leisure and social activities—is vital to Scotland’s future. It will help to transform our economy, deliver on our net zero ambitions and create a fairer, greener Scotland for all.

That is our vision for rail—a vision that I hope that members across the chamber will want to play their part in shaping, through a national conversation.

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow 30 minutes or so, after which we will need to move to the next item of business.

I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement and for the generous tone in which she delivered it.

The statement described a “new beginning” for ScotRail, but the only thing that is new is that ScotRail is coming under new ownership. There has not been a vision since the year when Michael Matheson announced it. Jenny Gilruth is new to the job, so it is not her fault, but it sounds as though she wants us to help her to create that vision. In the spirit in which she delivered her statement, I am more than happy to help her with that, and to join her in genuine cross-party talks. However, if we are going to get that right, I gently suggest that those talks need to be regular discussions—not just the occasional half an hour. I agree with her that we all want the same thing, so we need to join up across the chamber.

She made the mistake of mentioning East Kilbride. If she wants to have a look at the plans for the East Kilbride line, she will discover that, yes, it is going to be electrified, but she will also find that the plans to dual that line for its entire length have been scrapped. Her predecessor offered cross-party talks to discuss the matter further, so she might want to take that forward.

In the time that I have left, I ask the minister for her view on fares. If we want to get people back on trains, the vision will need to include lower fares. What is her view on that?

What is the minister’s view on there being no compulsory redundancies? Does she think that that is a good thing or not? Does she want to get train services back to pre-pandemic levels or does she not?

Mr Simpson covered a number of points in his questions, which I will address in turn.

I welcome his reception of my offer to other parties, particularly his party. On the specific question about regular meetings, I am more than happy to commit to that. I see the vision for us moving forward into public ownership as being part of the whole Parliament’s responsibility. It is my responsibility as transport minister, but I want other parties to play a part in the process and to feel that they have had an opportunity to contribute and, at times, to critique, because that is their role.

On the specific question about the East Kilbride line, I appreciate that my predecessor gave Mr Simpson an assurance on that point. I am more than happy to meet Mr Simpson and others on the specifics regarding dualling of the line. He will appreciate that I am not sighted on the detail of that decision, but I am more than happy to sit down with him to discuss it.

With regard to fares and the recent fare increases, Graham Simpson raised a challenging point for the Government about the sustainability of public transport. Despite the fares increase, our fares in Scotland are still 20 per cent lower than fares across the rest of the UK. I do not think that that is an answer for us going forward, but it is a statement of fact. We need to facilitate people getting back on to our trains. Part of that conversation is happening through, for example, our fair fares review, to which the previous transport minister committed. It also gives us an opportunity to look at how we might join up, across the public transport network, journeys that are not currently joined up.

Mr Simpson asked a question about no compulsory redundancies. I will meet the unions tomorrow on that very matter. I do not want to prejudge the outcome of that meeting, but I cannot imagine that that is something that the Government would ever seek to take forward as we bring a company into public ownership. I gave a steer on that in last week’s debate; I hope that that gives him some reassurance, but I want to speak to the unions about the matter. There are a number of other issues that we will need to unpack in the course of that meeting, and I will be happy to discuss that in further detail with Mr Simpson when we meet to discuss the specific matter of the East Kilbride line.

Graham Simpson also asked about a return to pre-pandemic service levels. Of course, I would love to wave a wand and get rid of the pandemic, but I got the train from Markinch to Edinburgh this morning at 8 o’clock and it was not even half full. When I was getting that train two years ago, there was standing room only. Something has changed in how people use public transport: they are scared to return to using public transport because of the pandemic. I hope that we are now getting to a better place and that the First Minister’s update to Parliament yesterday gives people more confidence, as we move forward.

However, as a Government, we need to work on our messaging, in order to encourage people back to public transport, so that they can use it safely and support public ownership of Scotland’s trains—their being back in Scotland’s hands.

We have a bit of time in hand, but we will need slightly more succinct questions and answers.

I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement.

If this is to be a new beginning for ScotRail, there must be a new direction from Government and a new ambition for the future, but the starting point for the new ScotRail is cuts of 250 daily services, 50,000 fewer seats on trains and the biggest fares hike in a decade, as we face a climate emergency. I welcome the minister’s having said that she is in listening mode, but the test will be of what the minister does, not just of what she says.

Scottish Labour is prepared to work with the minister before 1 April, but we are not prepared to work with her to cut services or to cut people’s jobs. Will the minister confirm that she supports plans to cut overall services by 10 per cent from pre-pandemic levels?

She will be aware of Unite the union’s home safe campaign and passenger and rail unions’ concerns about safety and accessibility on the railway. Has there been an equality impact assessment of ticket office closures?

The Scottish Government expects ScotRail, under public control, to adopt the general public sector pay policy. Why is the Government insisting that the policy will apply to that part of the public sector, but not to others?

The minister has said that the new operator will be founded on fair work. Why will the Scottish Government not categorically rule out compulsory redundancies?

The purpose of bringing ScotRail back into public hands was to better serve the travelling public. That is why the Scottish Government’s actions must match its rhetoric. It is regrettable that, at the moment, they do not.

I thank Mr Bibby for his questions. As Mr Simpson did, he touched on a number of matters. I appreciate that time is short.

We have a bit of time in hand.

Okay. I will try to address some of Neil Bibby’s points. He talked about cuts to services, but I think that it is pragmatic to reflect on where we are with passenger rail use—how many folk are actually using the trains—at the moment. As I said in my answer to Graham Simpson, I take the train regularly; people are not using the trains as they were two years ago. We need to take cognisance of where we are with local use of our trains.

Do I want us to restore passenger services to what they were? We would have to have a sea change in how many folk are using the train in order for us to go back to those levels. I guess that the proposition, in that case, is that we run empty trains. I am not sure whether that is Labour’s position. I am keen to speak to the unions about the matter.

Mr Bibby will know that there was an announcement from ScotRail last week about restoration, to December levels, of a number of services. He will appreciate that there were a number of challenges, due to omicron and driver absences, that led to the introduction of a temporary timetable from the end of last year. That will end on 14 February, next week.

I accept that there are challenges. That links neatly to my response to Mr Simpson on customer behaviour: folk are scared to return to public transport because of the pandemic. Government can help with that with some of the messaging, but, if people are not using the trains, there is a question to be asked about the sustainability of running empty trains.

Mr Bibby also asked about cuts to jobs. I put on the record that there is absolutely no proposal from the Scottish Government to cut jobs. We talked about that in response to the ticket office consultation last week. I want to make it very clear that that is not part of the proposal.

On safety and accessibility, Mr Bibby asked about an equalities impact assessment. The ticket office consultation was carried out by Transport Focus, which is an independent watchdog. It carried out a diversity impact assessment, which is a live document pending the final report. Transport Focus looked at reducing the number of ticket office closures from 13 to three, and it looked at passenger assist, which is the system that allows folk who are travelling to pre-book help in getting on trains.

Mr Bibby also asked about fair work practices. Again, I covered that to an extent in my response to Mr Simpson. I am keen to work with the unions on the matter, and we absolutely expect fair work principles and fair work first to be instilled in the organisation. I want to speak to the rail unions to get a steer from them about where they are on the issue. I did not want to prejudge the outcome of those conversations in my statement.

About 15 members wish to ask questions and we have about 20 minutes in which to accommodate them. I hope that everybody who is participating will bear that in mind.

I welcome the update and the decision to take ScotRail into public ownership and control. What difference will passengers and staff notice at the point of transfer, and how does the Scottish Government intend to ensure that the new rail company delivers on strategic priorities, including fair work and net zero?

ScotRail will come into Scottish Government control on 1 April, which is 51 days away. At the point of transfer, we expect services to continue as normal; it will be business as usual for passengers and staff. It is important that we give reassurance and familiarity to passengers in the short term, as we build back from the pandemic. Thereafter, ScotRail will introduce in a measured manner initiatives to address the issues that have been identified through the national conversation, which I alluded to in my statement.

Arrangements for the formal transfer of staff from Abellio ScotRail to ScotRail Trains Ltd have begun; staff will transfer with their current terms and conditions. We have also committed to application of the public sector pay policy to staff of ScotRail Trains Ltd from 1 April, with the caveat that any deals that have already been agreed for 2022-23 will be honoured.

Scottish Rail Holdings is, of course, accountable to Scottish ministers. It will, on behalf of ministers, oversee delivery of services by ScotRail Trains Ltd. That robust holding company governance model will ensure that the Scottish Government’s strategic priorities, which include fair work and net zero, are delivered.

What are the total projected costs of nationalising ScotRail? When will the minister publish the forecast accounts and final accounts?

I thank Liam Kerr for his question on finance. The measure is being funded from the rail services in Scotland allocated RDEL—resource departmental expenditure limits—budget. There is budget provision of £2.5 million in 2021-22 for that workstream. We anticipate that the full budget provision will be spent on delivery of the workstream, which is in line with actual expenditure so far.

Rail, of course, is not a fully devolved matter. Does the minister anticipate that causing challenges for the new public sector rail service? What more can be done to make the case for full devolution of all powers and resources for rail to Scotland?

It is hugely important that we consider that the Scottish Rail Holdings approach is in line with where we are constitutionally currently. The member is absolutely right. I would love to see the full devolution of railway powers to this Parliament, to allow us to have full control over our nationalised infrastructure. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. I hope that that happens in the not-too-distant future.

I very much welcome Ms Dunbar’s points on how we can work with the public on bringing forward a system that will work for the people of Scotland and passengers’ experience of Scotland’s railways.

It is a shame that the minister was not in listening mode last week, when she endorsed the biggest hike in rail fares in a decade and voted for 250 fewer train services a week. If she really is listening, will she scrap the current flawed consultation on ticket office cuts? We do not yet know what passenger numbers will return to.

Furthermore, the information in the consultation document is incorrect. For example, it claims that Lockerbie station, which is in my region, will no longer open at 7.30 but will open at 7.00. Anyone who uses the station knows that it has opened at 6.50 for years. How can we trust a consultation on future opening hours when ScotRail does not even seem to know what the current opening hours are?

Colin Smyth raises a number of important points. I think that I was actually in listening mode last week, to reflect. Will I scrap the consultation? I cannot scrap something retrospectively. The consultation closed on 2 February, so it is done.

Transport Focus—I mentioned that it is the independent watchdog for transport users in my answer to Neil Bibby—is collating responses and it will also provide its view on the consultation process. I am told that the timescale for that is two weeks, after which the matter will come to me for decision.

I cannot retrospectively scrap the consultation, but I give the member my undertaking that I will look into the specifics of the issues that he has mentioned. Some of what he has highlighted in the chamber gives me some cause for concern, so I would be keen to understand a bit more about that.

On the rationale behind the consultation—we talked about some of this in the chamber last week—this is about the behavioural shift of people not going into ticket offices and buying tickets in the same way they might have done in the past. ScotRail’s response to that was to consult and look at how people are buying their tickets. The last time that a review was carried out was in 1992. I hope that Colin Smyth will understand the need and rationale for the review.

On how the review was conducted, and on whether mistakes were made, I reassure the member that I will be looking closely at the detail of the report when it makes its way to me in a couple of weeks’ time.

Natalie Don joins us remotely. She will be followed by Beatrice Wishart. [Interruption.] If you could just pause, Ms Don. There seems to be something wrong with your audio. If you begin again, perhaps the issue will have resolved itself. [Interruption.]

I am afraid that the issue has not resolved itself. I will go to Beatrice Wishart next and come back to you afterwards, Ms Don. I hope that our information technology colleagues will have sorted out the problems by then.

Some 50 days before taking on the running of the railways and more than two years since the decision was taken, it is only now that the Government is starting to think what to do with the railways. However, I welcome the engagement that the minister says will take place.

The minister wants to achieve carbon emission reduction targets. Does she support the call by the Scottish Liberal Democrats to expand the current rail card scheme that provides a third off travel to the model that is used in London and the south-east, in which more people benefit from cheaper rail travel, which would then encourage more people on to trains and off the roads?

First of all, I think that it is 31 days, but forgive me if I am wrong, Presiding Officer—I might need to correct the record on that point.

Beatrice Wishart spoke to the tone of my statement today. I very much want to work with political parties on this matter, and I hope that she and others will take up that invitation to engage in this work, because it is important that we get it right.

On expanding the railcard, Beatrice Wishart spoke about a specific example that the Liberal Democrats support. I do not know whether that is with reference to the under-22s scheme; I know that she made a point about that last week, and I would be more than happy to look at the detail of it. My view would be that we need to look at the detail of the costings involved.

I cannot give Beatrice Wishart a specific answer on that, but she is absolutely right on the general point about facilitating people to get back on to trains and buses and back into using public transport. We have a challenge on our hands in the Government, and I am not shying away from that. People are scared to go back to using public transport. A lot of people are still working at home, or they are taking a hybrid approach to employment, and that has also had an impact on footfall. We need to be alive to that. There is a job for the Government to do to support the public transport infrastructure that we have. I would be more than happy to speak to Beatrice Wishart on the specifics of the proposal that she raises. She will understand that I am not sighted on the details of the financials around it.

I understand that we do not yet have Natalie Don’s audio, so I call Stuart McMillan.

The minister spoke about the changes to travel patterns. What steps will the new ScotRail Ltd take to encourage people to make both short and long journeys by rail while also ensuring that rail is affordable for people to use more frequently?

It is absolutely important that people are encouraged to use rail and the infrastructure that is on their doorstep. One way in which we can do that is through our conversations with local authorities. In my statement, I spoke about the importance of working with partners such as the British Transport Police, Network Rail and local authorities to ensure that people are encouraged to go back to using public transport.

I very much welcome Stuart McMillan’s question. He is right that there has been a reduction in the number of longer journeys that people are taking. Prior to the pandemic, people tended to take longer journeys, and they tended to use public transport to travel to work. That has now changed. We now see the public using rail, for example, at the weekends and for leisure purposes. They do not tend to travel to work during the week on the train or on buses in the way they did before the pandemic arose. That means that our approach as a Government to encouraging people back on to public transport needs to be nuanced. We also have to make sure that people feel safe to do it. I spoke to some of the challenges around that, which do not relate just to the pandemic.

I welcome the minister’s comments that the Scottish Government intends to consult women and women’s groups on public transport. However, with reports of harassment on transport increasing compared with pre-pandemic levels, can the minister advise how many people have been charged and prosecuted over the past year, and can she say what immediate measures the Scottish Government is putting in place to protect women’s safety on public transport?

Tess White raises some very important points. She asks a specific question about, I think, the number of convictions. I do not have that detail in front of me, but I am more than happy to speak to justice colleagues and share that information with her office.

On the immediate things that we will be doing, I have committed today, as transport minister, to consult women’s groups on women’s experiences of public transport. We know that that is an issue. I see Jamie Greene at the back of the chamber, and I know that he was referencing data in the newspaper yesterday or the day before about LGBT people’s experiences on public transport—[Interruption.] Sorry, I apologise—I have prejudged his question. It is important that we look at marginalised groups and their experiences of public transport, because, if they are less likely to use public transport, we need to encourage them back into using our railways and our buses. It is hugely important.

On the specifics, I am interested in the working group that is being drawn together by British Transport Police Chief Superintendent Gill Murray, which will have representation from other modes of transport. That group’s intention will be to identify and agree a joint strategy to tackle a wide range of antisocial behaviour issues on various Scottish transport networks. I very much look forward to meeting the chief superintendent in the coming months and working closely with her on those significant issues. I am not sure whether I have also mentioned that Network Rail has a similar campaign in that space. It is about having the variety of partners that we have on the railway meet together to agree on a way forward to protect vulnerable groups—a matter that Tess White rightly highlighted in her question.

The Greens strongly agree with the minister that a people’s ScotRail must be rooted in the experiences of passengers and of course the dedicated women and men who work on our railways. Just last week, damaging timetable changes in Perth and Fife were scrapped by ScotRail after hundreds of my constituents campaigned for change. How can we harness the energy and enthusiasm of those passengers to help to co-design services now and in the future to meet their needs and to increase patronage?

The May 2022 timetable, which initially proposed to add, I think, 100 extra services compared to December of last year, will now, following consultation and feedback from ScotRail customers and businesses, add nearly 150 services. That consultation provided an opportunity for ScotRail customers and businesses to help to shape a reliable and responsive timetable. It is the starting point for rebuilding Scotland’s railway following the Covid pandemic and ensuring that it is fit for purpose.

The member spoke about co-design. ScotRail currently has a stakeholder group that it uses to consult members of the public. There is a proposal that the stakeholder group will also move on 1 April. It is a hugely important forum where vulnerable groups, for example, and members of the public can have their views listened to and can give feedback on consultations that ScotRail undertakes. For example, ScotRail used the stakeholder group when it was framing the design for the ticket office consultation and the timetable consultation.

I hope that that gives Mark Ruskell reassurance that some of the structures are already in place, and I very much expect them to migrate over on 1 April.

The minister mentioned passengers, freight, the unions, decarbonisation and safety for passengers. Does she have one overriding aim for the railways?

I am not sure that I can pick one, although I thank John Mason for his question. We need an efficient, reliable and sustainable railway service for all of Scotland. I was struck by some of the comments that were made in the chamber last week, after the statement on our vision for ScotRail services, when members asked whether we were just going to keep things ticking over as usual. We need a rethink, which is why I framed today’s statement in that space. That means that I want to work with partners and political parties in the chamber.

We also need to ensure that we have a railway service that encourages passengers back on to our trains. We need to recognise the challenges in that respect. I have given the example of women in particular, but it is not just about women. People are fearful of using our trains, for a variety of reasons. Some examples in relation to disability were highlighted to me in the context of, I think, the ticket office consultation. As a Government, we need to take cognisance of that to help us move forward on 1 April.

I hope that that gives John Mason an idea of my vision. I am interested in speaking to other political parties on the issue. Of course, tomorrow’s meeting with the trade unions will help to give me more of a flavour of their position and what steps they want the Government to take as we move forward together in partnership on 1 April.

I am pleased to announce the delayed arrival of Natalie Don, who joins us remotely.

Thank you, Presiding Officer—third time lucky.

I appreciate the concerns that the unions might have about how the public sector pay policy could have an impact on pay increases this year, but will the minister provide more information on the potential additional benefits that the public sector pay policy will have for rail workers, as we bring Scotland’s railway into public ownership?

The public sector pay policy sets out the parameters for pay increases, staff pay remits and senior appointments, and it applies to the Scottish Government’s core directorates and its associated departments. The policy maintains our distinctive Scottish approach to public sector pay, and it continues our focus on sustainability, reducing inequalities and promoting wellbeing. It underlines our commitment to tackling poverty, with specific measures to address low pay, including the introduction of a Scottish public sector wage floor.

To summarise the key benefits, they are to invest in our public sector workforce, which delivers top-class person-centred services for all; to provide a distinctive and progressive pay policy that is fair, affordable and sustainable and that delivers value for money in exchange for workforce flexibilities; and to reflect real-life circumstances, protect those on lower incomes, continue the journey towards pay restoration for the lowest paid, and recognise recruitment and retention concerns.

I, too, welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that it will consult women on their safety on public transport. Last week, the Scottish Women’s Convention and Inclusion Scotland wrote to the First Minister expressing “grave concerns” about the proposals to close three station booking offices completely and cut hours in 117 further stations.

In a recent survey, 45 per cent of women transport workers said that they had prevented the sexual harassment of passengers in the past five years. Does the minister agree that cutting staff in train stations will deter women from using the railways? Will she agree to a full debate in the Parliament on women’s safety on public transport?

Yes, I will agree to that, because the subject is hugely important. I have today set out some of my thinking about the challenge. Last week, women’s safety on public transport was kind of tacked on to the end of a lot of heat about other political debates, and the issue is too important for that.

Katy Clark mentioned cuts to staff. I put it on the record again that there are no proposals from the Scottish Government to cut any staff numbers. I am alive to challenges in the ticket office consultation, particularly on women’s safety, and I have mentioned some of the factors. I hope that Katy Clark accepts that we also need to think more broadly about women’s experience of public transport—that is about not just our ticket offices, but standing on platforms, walking to the train station and getting home from the train station late at night, when it is dark.

We need to identify lots of parts of women’s experiences of the public transport system that do not relate just to ticket office closures, but Katy Clark raises important points, and I would be more than happy to debate the subject in Government time. I announced today that I am commissioning research into women’s experiences of public transport, because we need to get the data. I cited specifics of women’s experiences of the public transport system in London, which were compelling, and I talked about the actions that British Transport Police is taking. I hope that that reassures Katy Clark about the seriousness with which I judge the issue.

I answered specific points about the ticket office consultation in response to Colin Smyth. When it comes to me in two weeks’ time, I will look at the detail and at women’s safety on public transport, which is so important, as Katy Clark has highlighted.

There has been a shift, post-Covid, from a commuting business model to a balance of commuting and tourism and leisure travel. Will the Scottish Government consider investigating the provision of integrated ticketing that offers discounted access to tourism destinations? On the Borders railway, that could include the National Mining Museum, the great tapestry of Scotland and Abbotsford. Co-ordination with the management of those places might increase travel on the railway.

Christine Grahame raises a number of important points. I think that I was meant to visit the great tapestry of Scotland with her in my previous role; perhaps we will get there one day. I have certainly been to the National Mining Museum.

Christine Grahame makes a valid point about how we join up a public transport system with local tourism opportunities. She will know my interest in that, as I am the constituency MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes, where, next year, Leven’s railway will come back after 50 years. In Fife, we have great tourism opportunities on our doorstep and I will be keen to explore this locally.

On Christine Grahame’s point about integrated travel, the fair fares review, which the previous transport minister commissioned, will give us data and understanding about how we might deliver that. I am keen to explore that, because she is right that we have moved away from being a society that uses public transport primarily to commute to work and become one that uses it for leisure and tourism opportunities. The Government therefore needs to think about how we integrate our public transport ticketing to reflect the modal shift.

Despite the earlier spoiler, I call Jamie Greene.

Thank goodness—I thought for a second that the minister was going to steal my thunder. I will raise an important issue. In the past five years, 676 instances of hate crime have been reported on our trains, and a third of them were directed towards those in the LGBT community, although it is not just them who have been affected—incidents have targeted people on the basis of race, religion and disability.

I think that we agree that we all have the right to use public transport safely. What dialogue will the Government have with all groups, including minority groups in society, to ensure that they have full access to public transport, irrespective of their status? What action will the minister take to ensure that her justice partners in the Government are sure to charge and prosecute those who perpetrate hate crime against those who are most marginalised and most at risk of such attacks?

I apologise for pre-empting Jamie Greene’s question earlier. He raises a really important point, and I have seen some of the coverage that he has received in the press on the issue of the LGBT community’s experiences of public transport. He also raises the matters of race, religion and disability. It is right that those groups, which are often vulnerable anyway, feel safe on public transport, and the Government has a responsibility there.

I have spoken about my concerns about women’s experiences of public transport in particular. It is important that the Government takes an intersectional approach and recognises the minority groups about which Jamie Greene has spoken.

The member asked how I might engage with those groups. In my statement, I set out some of my plans for a national conversation. That endeavour is about speaking not just to political parties, but to trade unions, charities and third sector organisations.

The member mentioned the natural links with the justice portfolio, and I am keen to meet justice officials on that specific issue. Tess White asked about the prosecution of crimes that are committed on public transport. Those statistics sit with justice, and I am keen to meet the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans to ensure a joined-up approach to delivering our vision for Scotland’s railways and ensuring that we protect the most vulnerable, as Jamie Greene has highlighted.

I am conscious that we are over time, but I will call the remaining two members who wish to ask a question.

I am concerned about staffing at stations and accessibility for disabled people. At some stations, lifts are not turned on when the station is not staffed. That limits the ability for disabled people to travel when they want, which many of us take for granted. Can the minister confirm that any changes will be discussed with disabled people’s organisations and that they will not adversely impact the accessibility of the network?

I confess that Gillian Mackay’s specific point on access to lifts in train stations has not been raised with me previously. I expect ScotRail to consult with disability organisations, if it has not already done so. That I spoke to equality officers in the course of the disability impact assessment that ScotRail undertook for the ticket office consultation might answer her question.

I will follow up with ScotRail on Gillian Mackay’s specific point on the importance of consulting with disability organisations, as she has raised an important point about accessibility and lifts in our train stations.

No rail improvements for the north-east of Scotland were mentioned today, and no mention was made of re-laying the Formartine to Buchan line or of the promised 20-minute reduction in journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt. Have those projects hit the buffers?

I am sorry if Douglas Lumsden missed the memo from today’s statement. I am here to work with members of the Opposition, not to argue with them.

The member has raised several issues about services in the north-east. I have set out some of the restorations of services that we have seen under ScotRail. The reasons why ScotRail services had to be decreased are, first, the Omicron variant over the Christmas period and, secondly, passengers not using trains in the same way that they were before the pandemic. In my response to Christine Grahame, I set out the examples of tourism and leisure and the reasons why people might not be using the train.

The other challenge that the Government faces now is ensuring that people feel safe. I hope that that answer reassures the member that we take those issues seriously, and I hope that he will join his colleague Graham Simpson in the positive spirit of engagement and collaboration that we saw in his response at the start of today’s statement.

Before things boil over, we will move to the next item of business.