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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 09 December 2020

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Budget Update, Education, Economy, Coronavirus Acts Report, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Point of Order, Decision Time, Bus Services


Contents


Bus Services

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-23117, in the name of Graham Simpson, on bus service cuts. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament is concerned that hundreds of bus services in Scotland have been cut since March 2020; notes the support given to bus companies by the Scottish Government during the COVID-19 pandemic, but considers that, despite this, many parts of the country, including the Central Scotland region, have been left without an adequate service, and acknowledges that the Scottish Government has yet to commence Part 3 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 to allow local authorities to bring forward proposals for the provision of bus services in their area.

18:42  

I thank all the members who signed the motion to allow the debate to take place. I also thank those—few—members who have stayed back tonight. I understand the reasons for the low attendance, as it is very late.

There will not be a single MSP who has not seen a decline in bus services in their area during the pandemic, but in truth the decline has been going on for much longer than that. I look forward to hearing about the picture across the country, and to hearing members’ ideas for how we can move forward.

I did not lodge the motion to score political points. I welcome the money that the Scottish Government has put in during the current crisis, which has been vital, but we need to start a serious conversation about what we want our public transport system to be, and how such a system can emerge once we are through the pandemic.

The motion says that

“hundreds of bus services ... have been cut since March”,

which is true. According to the traffic commissioner for Scotland, a total of 241 bus services were cancelled between 1 March and 30 November. Thousands of people who rely on the bus now have either no service or a worse service than they previously had. It is not quite that simple: hundreds of services were cut or altered, but many have been reinstated. However, my fear is that they might be lost again once the massive subsidies that Government is providing come to an end, as they will.

In my view, some bus companies have, during the Covid-19 pandemic, taken the opportunity to get rid of services that they might, for some time, have been looking to be rid of. In the area where I live in East Kilbride, that is definitely the case, which is why I brought the debate to the chamber.

I live in Stewartfield, which is probably the most affluent part of the town. I have lived there for 25 years, and in all that time our bus service has been woeful. There is a bus once every half an hour that gets you one way into the town centre—going very much round the houses—and the other way into Glasgow. The buses are old and the service is hit and miss. It is little wonder that most people do not bother with it and that car use is high, because there really is no alternative.

However, some people do not have a car and need a bus, so when First Bus tried a few years ago to axe the service, I—as a local councillor at the time—ran a big campaign, and we managed to stop the cut. That is how it stayed, until Covid struck. The already low numbers on a poor service got even lower, and First simply stopped running the 31 to East Kilbride. It was not prepared to act on pleas to consider potentially more viable routes, so Stewartfield was cast aside.

All that we could do was appeal to Strathclyde Partnership for Transport for help. Despite being seriously cash strapped itself, SPT funded a replacement service with a different operator, but that runs only once an hour. In my view, that cannot work in the long term and we need to do much better, although I am told that, so far, passenger numbers are quite promising.

My experience is not unique, but it highlights something that is wrong with the current system. In many parts of the country, we have a hotchpotch of operators. In my region of Strathclyde, there are more than 50 different operators.

Buses can lead the green recovery, through companies such as Alexander Dennis in my region. I hope that that company benefits from the green bus fund that was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for which I lobbied behind the scenes.

Bus is by far the most popular public transport mode in Strathclyde—it carries more than twice as many passengers as rail does. However, the numbers of people using buses have been falling for years. According to SPT, bus patronage in Strathclyde and south-west Scotland declined from 234 million to 159 million journeys in the 10 years from 2008-09, which is a drop of 32 per cent.

We cannot blame bus companies for pulling routes that lose money, but after they do, SPT, which is funded by cash-strapped councils, steps in—sometimes, when it can—to pick up the pieces. SPT currently supports 216 services that cover a network of about 7.9 million miles per year, or around 152,000 miles per week—that is 10 per cent of the total miles operated by services in the region.

Here is the rub. SPT’s annual revenue budget for supported services is around £13 million, or £5 per head of population—not per passenger—per year. We can compare that with the level of subsidy for bus services per head of population per year in Greater Manchester, which is £10, and in London, where it is £75. If we want a gold-standard public transport system, it has to be paid for.

I agree with SPT’s call for a Scottish bus task force to be set up to tackle the issues and recommend a way forward, because there is no easy answer. However, I think that we can agree that the best public transport systems are joined up, easy to use and easy to understand, and that there should be no deserts where people have no choice but to drive.

If public subsidies are needed for that, so be it—ideologies must not get in the way. Public transport is a good thing. Part 3 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 allows for the creation of bus service improvement partnerships by one or more councils. That would enable councils to set standards on routes, fares and ticketing, and they could also run their own services. Some councils, such as Aberdeen and Falkirk, are interested in that, and it could be a good thing in my patch, where the reality of people’s travel patterns is that they go in and between Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire.

I know that it is unusual to intervene on a member from one’s own side of the chamber, but Graham Simpson raises a fair point. I spent many a sleepless night when we were considering the Transport (Scotland) Bill. Local councils that may wish to set up a bus service to meet the needs of local residents simply do not have the money to do so, and therein lies the problem.

Money is certainly an issue, as I have mentioned—Jamie Greene is absolutely right that it comes down to money. Nonetheless, the travel patterns in my region run across council areas so, if we are going to do something, it should be on a regional level.

Many of the provisions in the 2019 act, including those on improvement partnerships, are yet to come into force. The cynic in me says that that is because some of the provisions will be unpopular before an election, but improvement partnerships are not in that category, so I fail to understand the delay.

Let us all get behind the message that buses are good and necessary, and let us start a national conversation on how best to provide a proper, fully integrated public transport system.

18:50  

I thank Graham Simpson for bringing this subject to Parliament. I was green with envy to hear that there is a half-hourly bus service in his local area. In my local village, the only service is the 301, heading broadly east and west, and we would dearly love to have a half-hourly service. On one occasion when I wanted to catch a train, I travelled cross-country from the second village away on the only bus that was running on a Sunday. During my entire hour and a half on that bus, I was the only passenger. Bus services are important because they are important for individual passengers. The bus does not need to be filled for it to be an important service.

It is as well—particularly for Graham Simpson and those with his political viewpoint—to remind ourselves why we have a very successful municipally owned bus service in Edinburgh and why we basically do not have the same elsewhere in Scotland. It is simply because his political party caused bus services to be sold off.

I used the excellent Aberdeen bus service as a student, normally travelling on the number 10 route. It was a very effective, frequent and affordable service. However, it was sold off. Where did the profits from that go? They did not go back into Aberdeen to invest in bus services. Edinburgh managed to retain the asset in the form of the successful Lothian Buses, which I use on a not regular but not irregular basis.

If councils across Scotland or Strathclyde Partnership for Transport were to start their own bus companies, that would involve very substantial capital investments to recoup the amount of money that was given away, in essence, by privatising the previous municipal bus services.

I was astonished to hear Graham Simpson complaining that there are 50 private bus companies operating in Strathclyde—almost with the suggestion that he wants to replace them with one municipal one. I am not saying that I necessarily disagree with that proposal, but it is fundamentally more difficult than he was perhaps suggesting in his speech.

Another thing that Graham Simpson referred to, which is perfectly correct, is that there are ways to provide local support for bus services other than by running your own bus services, including by supporting individual routes. The one that I referred to, on which I travelled on a Sunday, was a council-supported route that would not be there if the council was not investing in it. A key question that we must ask ourselves, however, and to which I do not have the answer, is what the cost will be per passenger per journey for councils that support individual routes that are contracted to private operators, or community bus services for that matter, or that invest the substantial capital amount involved in setting up their own bus companies.

We are looking at the lack of—[Inaudible.]—Transport (Scotland) Act 2019. In relation to municipally owned and operated bus services, we need high standards of governance and supervision of what is quite a substantial undertaking for a local council to contemplate, so I am not hugely surprised that it will take a while to introduce the commencement order for that facility.

The subject is a very proper one to be brought to the Parliament, but I think that it might be more complex than Graham Simpson has perhaps provided for in his motion and in his speech.

18:54  

I thank Graham Simpson for lodging the motion and allowing Parliament the opportunity to highlight the importance of our bus services and, crucially, the big challenges that they face in the months ahead.

As Graham Simpson rightly highlighted, although the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on public transport, when it comes to our buses, in many ways, it has not created new problems but compounded those that already existed. Even before the pandemic, bus journeys plummeted by 14 million last year, adding to a downward trend that has seen numbers fall by a quarter under the current Government. In communities right across Scotland, vital bus networks were on the brink of collapse even before Covid; now, without meaningful change, that collapse will be inevitable in many communities.

I very much recognise the funding that has gone into supporting the bus sector during this period, which is very welcome. However, we all know that it is a sticking plaster. We need to provide financial support to sustain the sector in the months ahead, but we also need to give transport authorities the powers to rebuild and recover in the future. Implementing the provisions of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 on bus services is a key part of that.

When the 2019 act was passed by the Parliament, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity said:

“The bill offers an ambitious new model for improving bus services and will ensure that there will be sustainable bus networks across Scotland.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2019; c 92.]

Frankly, there has never been a stronger need for that than there is now.

Although I would have liked to see the act go a lot further, it does provide for greater regulation of services through bus service improvement plans and franchising and, crucially, it lifts the unfair ban on municipal ownership. I have to say that it has been quite amusing watching a Scottish National Party politician arguing with a Conservative politician against public and municipal ownership. How times have changed—in a very positive way.

I lodged amendments to secure the lifting of that ban at stage 2—which were ultimately agreed to at stage 3—and I did so because I strongly believe that greater municipal ownership will help to ensure that communities and passengers are put first when it comes to our bus services. That reflects the principle that I have that public transport is very much a public service.

However, as Jamie Greene highlighted, councils need not only the powers in the 2019 act, but the financial support to use them—a point that SPT emphasised in its briefing.

Protecting Scotland’s bus network is not only absolutely essential in relation to our economy and connecting communities; it has a positive impact on wider policy priorities, from carbon reduction to public health. Indeed, every £1 invested in supporting socially necessary bus services delivers £3 of wider societal benefits. With vaccinations under way this week—which is hugely welcome—and an end to the Covid pandemic thankfully in sight, albeit months ahead, it is time to start to take a more strategic and long-term planning approach to the future of bus services. It is about what will happen when we move forward and begin to move away from the pandemic. That means getting ownership and regulation right, giving our councils the resources that they need, and tackling the long-term trends with meaningful action and investment.

The Government’s long-term investment in bus priority infrastructure will make a difference and is important. However, it has been entirely undermined by the decision to restrict bus partnership funds to authorities that are pursuing bus service improvement plans. Instead of ensuring that the money goes where it is needed most, the money is—in my view—being used to strong-arm authorities into using the Government’s preferred model for running services.

Likewise, although I welcome the Government’s commitment to introduce free bus travel for young people—which Labour has long argued for on the basis that it would promote a much-needed modal shift towards buses—I am disappointed that it has been limited to only those under the age of 19 and that its introduction, sadly, has been delayed. That should be a key priority and the first step towards expanding the concessionary travel scheme further in the future.

Buses continue to make up the majority of public transport journeys in Scotland, and this year has made clearer than ever the essential role that they play. I pay tribute to our key transport workers. They have worked around the clock to keep Scotland moving and to get other key workers into work, which is hugely important. Their role will also be incredibly important as we try to rebuild those services in the years ahead.

18:59  

There will not be many—if any—members of the Parliament who do not share some of the concerns detailed in the motion lodged by Graham Simpson that we are debating this evening. There is no doubt that Scotland has a patchy bus network in places, with room for improvement. However, I am glad that the motion recognises

“the support given to bus companies by the Scottish Government during the COVID-19 pandemic”,

because that is probably the most salient point in the debate. We are here because of Covid, not because anyone wishes to see bus services in Scotland being cut. The reality is that many bus services are uneconomic, in rural and urban areas, and I often see one or two people, at most, sitting on a gas-guzzling bus—often a 20-year-old gas-guzzling bus—that is belching out fumes that would be frowned upon in a third-world country, never mind a first-world country such as ours. Perhaps that is a clue to why transport represents Scotland’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

There is, of course, a solution to that. The world-class bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis is based in Falkirk West, which is a neighbouring constituency to mine and is represented by the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson. We will all have seen the restructuring plans that Alexander Dennis announced last August as a result of Covid inducing a slump in the demand for new buses. I was pleased to receive an assurance at that time from the cabinet secretary that the Scottish Government, in line with its historical support for bus manufacturing in Scotland, was exploring every option that it could to support our bus manufacturers, including Alexander Dennis, through this current challenging period. Our bus manufacturing sector leads the world in cutting-edge and sustainable technology and supports a significant number of jobs. We are already proud of it, but we should work to support it where we can. I am glad that the Scottish Government shares that view.

I hope that we all understand that these are challenging times for businesses and communities as a whole, not least the manufacturing industries. For example, today, we have seen Honda in England announce a halt to production because of blockages at ports preventing parts from getting through. That is even before the impact of the Brexit chaos that we are all dreading. However, Alexander Dennis produces world-class hybrid buses, and it now produces the world-beating hydrogen-powered Enviro400FC, which has an electric driveline with axle-mounted motors and an on-board battery that is charged by feeding hydrogen from secure tanks to a fuel cell system in which it is converted to electricity. No external battery charging is required, and the vehicle’s only emission is water vapour. Hydrogen fuel cell technology is here. It is in Falkirk, and it can offer long-range zero emission capability if suitable infrastructure can be put in place with sustainably sourced hydrogen.

I am sure that we all welcome the opportunities, which have already been discussed, that the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 brings, particularly the powers to allow local authorities to run bus services. I am as impatient as everyone else to see that happening, as it has the potential to reinvigorate Scotland’s bus networks, although I take on board Stewart Stevenson’s warnings. A number of local authorities have already started to explore that option, but they face financial barriers in implementing schemes, as Jamie Greene said in his intervention. I share the frustration of many people that those powers have not yet been enacted, although I get the fact that the attention of officials has been elsewhere in recent months. I note Friends of the Earth Scotland’s call in its briefing for the debate for the Scottish Government to bring forward powers to repair Scotland’s patchy bus service, create green jobs and contribute to decarbonising transport. I trust that the minister will also take note of that call.

19:03  

I thank Graham Simpson, who is a fellow Central Scotland MSP, for lodging the motion for debate. I completely agree that, in Central Scotland, as in other parts of the country, some of our communities have been left without adequate bus services in 2020. However, as Colin Smyth and other members have said, that is not just a Covid challenge; our communities have faced such issues for some time, so it is good that we are having this debate.

I have spoken in Parliament previously about the X1 bus service between Hamilton and Glasgow. I am extremely disappointed that First Glasgow axed that vital route this year. It tried to do it before the pandemic, but it was forced to pause because of a people-powered campaign in our local area. People strongly backed that vital route. It is really disappointing that First has gone ahead with the axing of the service under the cover of Covid, and I am disappointed that the Scottish Government has not done more to intervene and help to save this front-line service.

We have seen similar issues—Graham Simpson knows this—in East Kilbride, with the axing of the number 31 bus. Such buses are relied on by workers, students and young and old alike. The X1, for example, is a direct link between my local community of Hamilton and the royal infirmary in Glasgow. I could paper the walls with comments on Facebook and emails from constituents who strongly support the continuation of the X1, because they rely on it. One letter that I received said:

“The X1 is a vital service for those who live in High Earnock ... it is the only bus that goes around Davington Drive. The axe of this service would mean elderly and vulnerable residents having to walk 15 minutes to the”

closest

“bus stops on Wellhall Road, which can be prone to black ice during the winter ... this may lead to such residents not wanting to leave their house for ... shopping as they may not be able to afford a taxi”.

The letter continued:

“The X1 service is widely used by students, the bus is a lot cheaper and reliable than the train”

and it

“stops directly outside Strathclyde university, City of Glasgow College and Glasgow Caledonian University ... I am a student nurse who used the bus service from High Earnock to Buchanan bus station or I would get off at Glasgow Royal Infirmary during my placement along with fellow students and workers.”

Many constituents have said that they rely on the bus service for getting to regular appointments at Glasgow royal infirmary.

It is clear that the monopoly of provision has meant that public petitions and pleas from local politicians and residents have been ignored. The public has been let down. Activists such as those behind the Get Glasgow Moving campaign, which was launched in 2016, need to be supported.

Running public services for profit ultimately means that people are going to be let down, and that is unfortunately what is happening to too many of our constituents.

I agree with my colleague Colin Smyth that, for too long, bus services have been left deregulated with little investment. It is a real shame that Alexander Dennis in Falkirk, which should be at the forefront of electric bus creation, announced job cuts earlier this year because of lack of demand. We need to support those businesses. We need publicly funded and accountable local transport that puts people before profit and helps us to tackle climate change.

I finish by observing that I am the only woman to speak in the debate. Women make up the majority of bus users, so let us make sure that we get transport policy that is inclusive and supports all our communities, helps our economy and helps our environment. I look forward to hearing the minister’s response.

19:07  

I thank Graham Simpson for lodging his motion on what is clearly an important issue to many members and their communities. I thank members for their contributions, in which they shared a range of views that highlight the vital role that bus services play for people across Scotland.

To add to what Colin Smyth said, I pay tribute to Scotland’s transport workers. I am extremely grateful, as I know that the cabinet secretary is, for the way that our transport community has come together and made sure that our transport system continues to support essential journeys safely during the pandemic. I am also grateful for the engagement of trade unions and workers across the sector in helping to develop the guidance that allowed that to happen, which is very important.

The impact of Covid-19 on public transport has been unprecedented. Angus MacDonald made that point well. Demand for public transport plummeted overnight as we went into the initial national lockdown. Today, levels of patronage are still significantly lower than they were before Covid-19, in line with Government guidance and restrictions on travel. That is a primary driver for why the Scottish Government has had to commit a total of £546 million in the current financial year to sustain operations across public transport networks.

Members have touched on something that is relevant to the debate, which is that bus patronage is currently at about 45 per cent of pre-Covid levels, although there is significant variation across the country as demand is high in some places and lower elsewhere.

Our transport priority has been and remains to keep public transport running for those who need it, while capacity is reduced due to physical distancing. To maintain a viable and safe bus network, we have committed up to £162.3 million in additional financial support for bus services—that has come from within the funding that I have just mentioned—since we came out of the national lockdown in June. I thank members for their positive remarks on the support from the Scottish Government. I recognise that that is not the issue of political debate here.

We have also maintained concessionary reimbursement in bus service operator grant payments at the levels that were forecast before Covid 19, when demand was much higher. We would normally spend over £260 million in the financial year. That is in addition to the money that local authorities normally receive through the local authorities general revenue grant to secure additional bus services that are socially necessary but not commercially viable in their own right. In 2018-19, £57 million was spent on that.

The extra funding fills the gap between the additional costs of running services with Covid protection in place and the severely reduced ticketing income due to carrying capacity constraints as a result of both physical distancing and reduced demand. Operators that have received funding are not allowed to make a profit under the terms of the public service contract with the Scottish Government. Without that additional funding, services would not have increased from the about 30 per cent of pre-Covid levels that were operated during the national lockdown to what we see running today.

Notwithstanding the lower patronage figures, the largest bus operators are now running, on average, almost 95 per cent of pre-Covid mileage. In some places, bus operators are running less than 100 per cent due to a lack of driver availability, perhaps due to sickness and self-isolation or because drivers need to shield. Elsewhere, operators are running less than 100 per cent in agreement with Transport Scotland because the demand is just not there at the moment. Ironically, patronage remains particularly low in places such as Edinburgh while office workers and commuters continue to follow the Government guidance to work from home wherever it is possible to do so.

It is important to clarify that, even with the additional funding, having 100 per cent of normal service mileage does not necessarily mean that there will be 100 per cent normal capacity on the bus network, because of those changes. Physical distancing means that buses can carry fewer passengers than normal. One metre physical distancing can reduce the carrying capacity of a bus to as little as 35 per cent of its normal capacity.

In consultation with local transport authorities, bus operators have to make difficult decisions about where they can best deploy the capacity that they have to meet the current demand. That might mean increasing the number of buses on a route to cope with additional pressures on capacity and reduce the risk of overcrowding, as well as to maintain basic connectivity.

I am sorry to keep members working so late—I know that the clock is ticking. However, on that point, even after the pandemic—we all look forward to that time—it is difficult to see how patronage will get back up to the levels that existed before Covid, as it was already in decline. I hope that, somewhere in the minister’s summing-up speech, we will hear the Government’s plans to reduce that decline. Might it consider the proposition that I made during the passage of the Transport (Scotland) Bill for a proper multimode national ticketing system?

I will raise the issue of a multimode ticketing system with the cabinet secretary—that is not something that I have discussed with him. The member is right that there is concern about the long time lag that might exist for passenger demand to recover and return to pre-Covid levels. He is also right that we are concerned about the long-term decline in passenger numbers, which Graham Simpson and other colleagues commented on. I will come on to what we are doing to try to restore those numbers through bus priority funding.

We are seeing operators redeploying vehicles across the network to places where demand is high and there is risk of overcrowding, which necessarily then impacts on the availability of buses for other services. I recognise that challenge. I do not know whether that is specific to the points that Monica Lennon and Graham Simpson made about local routes, but it may be one factor.

It is right that decisions about local bus service provision are determined locally where that is possible. I think that we agree on that across the political parties. That is why it is a condition of our funding that bus operators consult and co-operate with local transport authorities when they plan services. They must respond positively and quickly to reasonable requests from local transport authorities to amend provision where the authority thinks that that is merited. Operators are required to keep bus services under review in consultation with local transport authorities to ensure that provision is in line with demand. That might be relevant to the points that Monica Lennon and Graham Simpson made about the X1 service and any pent-up demand for services to return.

I turn to the bus provisions in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, which were mentioned by Angus MacDonald, Monica Lennon, Graham Simpson and other colleagues. Implementation was necessarily paused as a result of the pandemic. That is regrettable, but it had to be done, as Angus MacDonald and Stewart Stevenson suggested. Officials have now restarted that work in earnest, and it will be taken forward subject to the parliamentary timetable. The limited parliamentary time that is available in the current session has been prioritised for essential legislation including the Government’s Covid response and the necessary preparations for the end of the European Union exit transition period.

Powers already exist to secure additional bus services to meet local needs. The new powers under the 2019 act extend the range of options that are available to local authorities and regional transport partnerships to improve services in their areas, whether that is through partnership working, local franchising or running their own bus services.

When is the earliest that the minister thinks that the provisions will be introduced? I accept the reason for the delay, but there is a demand for those powers.

Building on my earlier remarks, I note that we expect that a number of the measures in the act will not come into effect until the next parliamentary session. That being said, in relation to the bus service provisions in the act, which I believe are the ones that Graham Simpson is most interested in, a good deal of preparatory work was undertaken before the pandemic on the significant volume of regulations and guidance and the related consultation process that is required to support implementation.

Angus MacDonald was quite right to say that it is a complex situation. The implementation process is technically complex and it will require significant engagement with stakeholders, who have had limited capacity to engage in recent months. As with all other aspects of the act, officials have recommenced that work, and Parliament will be kept updated accordingly. I will encourage colleagues to ensure that we keep members informed about the progress of the work. Regrettably, some of the provisions in the act will probably have to slip into the next parliamentary session. I hope that information is helpful to Graham Simpson.

In closing, I note that we all agree that frequent, fast and reliable bus services are at the heart of a sustainable, inclusive transport system. That has to be the solution in addressing the historical decline in patronage and rebuilding to where we were prior to Covid-19. That is why we have launched the £500 million bus partnership fund, which supports local authorities’ ambitions to tackle the negative impact of congestion on bus services with permanent bus priority infrastructure to make services more reliable, faster and therefore more likely to attract people out of their cars on to buses.

Included in the £500 million fund is the £10 million bus priority rapid deployment fund, which is a capital funding pot that has already seen funding awards to Highland Council, Dundee City Council, the Glasgow city region and the Edinburgh and the south-east region. I appreciate that those awards do not cover the whole country, but particular areas have been targeted through the fund.

I do not know whether the fund will benefit the areas in Lanarkshire and East Kilbride that Graham Simpson referred to or assist with the impact on students in Glasgow, which Monica Lennon mentioned. However, we remain engaged with operators, regional transport partnerships and local authorities to keep under review the financial support that is necessary to maintain a viable bus network and secure public transport’s place at the heart of our transport system beyond Covid. I say to Colin Smyth that there is a good culture of developing engagement with local authorities, which may address the point that he raised.

Finally, I absolutely agree with the points that members raised regarding Alexander Dennis Ltd. It is an important business in the bus manufacturing sector. Members may remember that, in September, £7.4 million was awarded for 41 new electric buses and associated infrastructure through the Scottish ultra-low-emission bus scheme, and 35 of those electric buses will be built in Scotland by Alexander Dennis, which is really positive. Further funding has been awarded for the retrofitting of mid-life buses to become Euro 6 compliant, in line with low-emission zone regulations for clean air in, for example, Glasgow.

I will finish on the important point that Angus MacDonald made about hydrogen. I fully agree with him that hydrogen fuel technology has a very important role to play. I hope that members will soon see our hydrogen assessment project, which will give further detail on the demand case for hydrogen in the Scottish economy, including in relation to the transport system, and in particular for heavy vehicles such as buses and heavy goods vehicles. That project will be instructive in giving us a scale of the market demand in Scotland, and I look forward to seeing it.

Finally finally, I thank all members for their contributions—[Interruption.] I am perhaps stretching it a bit.

Minister, I was going to say that I do not know how many times you have said “finally”. I hope that, finally, you have reached your final “finally”.

I have indeed, Presiding Officer. I thank you and members for the debate, which has shone a light on some important issues relating to public transport services.

Meeting closed at 19:20.