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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, March 18, 2021

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Business Motion, Portfolio Question Time, Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 2021, Drug Deaths and Harms, Urgent Question, Standing Order Rule Changes (Private and Hybrid Bills), Standing Order Rule Changes (Delegated Powers Memorandums and Emergency Bills), Standing Order Rule Changes (Financial Scrutiny), Code of Conduct Rule Changes (Register of Interests), Decision Time


Urgent Question

Lothian Buses (Suspension of Services)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to Lothian Buses stopping its services at 7.30 pm on 17 March in response to reported incidents of buses being attacked and staff endangered.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity (Michael Matheson)

I deplore the attacks in recent weeks on bus services in Edinburgh, which have resulted in two bus drivers suffering injuries and requiring hospital attention. Attacks on key workers are totally unacceptable. They threaten the essential services on which communities rely. Everyone has the right to be safe, and to feel safe, in their community.

Police Scotland and local authorities lead on interventions to tackle antisocial behaviour, and I understand that extra police officers have been deployed. In addition, Lothian Buses is working closely with Police Scotland, unions and councils to tackle the issue and to keep its staff and passengers safe.

Lothian Buses advises that services are planned to operate as normal tonight, but that they will be withdrawn on a locality basis if similar incidents are witnessed. I call on communities to work with Police Scotland to assist it in tackling such antisocial behaviour.

Sarah Boyack

The decision to stop services was not taken after just one incident. As the cabinet secretary said, we have had a pattern of incidents over the past few weeks, which has resulted in buses being targeted. Drivers are increasingly worried about their safety. The worry is that the situation is escalating; the number of copycat threats is increasing, which is utterly unacceptable. What has gone wrong with action to stop the antisocial behaviour that is escalating to an appalling level in our capital city?

Michael Matheson

I agree that no one should be subjected to such antisocial behaviour when they go to their workplace, whether they are a bus driver, a community resident or a shop owner. Any form of antisocial behaviour corrodes the very fabric of our communities and leads to people feeling unsafe. The type of behaviour that has been witnessed in parts of Edinburgh is unacceptable.

That is why it is critical that there is early intervention from services that can work with young people to divert them from such activity. In addition, Police Scotland has a role to play in tackling such issues—in particular, it must consider whether further enforcement action is necessary in order to deal with them. I therefore encourage anyone who has information or who can assist Police Scotland in dealing with the antisocial behaviour in question to provide Police Scotland with that information to support it in taking action to protect anyone from the unacceptable levels of antisocial behaviour.

Sarah Boyack

I welcome the suggestion that those people should be talked to in our communities.

We need our buses, but they must be safe. What the cabinet secretary said about Police Scotland and youth services will be important as we go forward, but what support can the Scottish Government provide now to help to eradicate the unacceptable violence that we have seen? Key workers and national health service staff need our buses, but they must be safe.

Michael Matheson

I agree with Sarah Boyack. It is important that the appropriate justice bodies as well as child welfare organisations take the necessary action to tackle antisocial behaviour.

A number of mechanisms can be used by different agencies. They include enforcement action through antisocial behaviour orders or fixed-penalty notices and early intervention actions by child support organisations.

A concerted effort and a targeted approach to dealing with this type of antisocial behaviour is critical, not just because of the impact that it has had on buses. I suspect that, if individuals are targeting buses, they will be targeting other areas of the community as well, including people’s property or local shops. That is why it is important that communities work together collectively to tackle and stamp out the problems that are associated with antisocial behaviour.

I will take three supplementary questions.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

As a former employee of Lothian Buses, I utterly condemn the totally unacceptable antisocial and violent behaviour that has endangered drivers and passengers. The company has invested substantial sums of money, over the years, in radios, closed-circuit television and bandit screens to protect drivers in all its vehicles. Will the cabinet secretary join me in thanking my former colleagues at Lothian Buses, Police Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council for finding a partnership working solution that allows evening services to recommence tonight, thereby ensuring that key workers, including NHS employees, can still get to their work safely?

Michael Matheson

Yes, of course, I support the comments that have been made by my colleague Mr MacDonald. He rightly points out the need for agencies to work in partnership to tackle antisocial behaviour. I have no doubt that Police Scotland will be engaging with Lothian Buses and others on an on-going basis to tackle this particular issue. It is important that everyone who can play a part in dealing with the issue of antisocial behaviour does so. I have no doubt that Police Scotland will want to play its part in supporting Lothian Buses in ensuring that its staff are protected from such behaviour.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

The incidents have shocked the local community here, in Edinburgh. No one should have to go to their work and face such shameless and senseless attacks.

Given some of the success that Police Scotland previously had on attacks with fireworks around bonfire night, will the Scottish Government and Police Scotland look to establish an antisocial behaviour task force with Lothian Buses and the drivers, not just to address those incidents but to ensure that this unacceptable behaviour never happens again?

Michael Matheson

I am sure that we all want to find a long-term solution to the particular problem involving antisocial behaviour that has been experienced in parts of Edinburgh. I will ask my justice colleagues to pick up on Miles Briggs’s suggestion of a task force—given that they lead on matters relating to antisocial behaviour—to see whether that is a mechanism that could be used to tackle the issue.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I echo the recognition of bus drivers as key workers and heroes during the pandemic. They have worked under constant threat of infection; they do not need to work under threat of abuse.

The matter started with a moratorium on evening services in the Clermiston area of my constituency, because of a recent spate of antisocial behaviour by young people travelling from all over the city to the Drum Brae Drive bus terminus. What discussions is the cabinet secretary having with ministerial colleagues, particularly the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the Minister for Children and Young People, who has responsibility for young people and youth work, about diversionary supportive schemes that could be put in place under the Covid-19 restrictions, given the need to divert those young people from these terrible acts?

Michael Matheson

The issues behind antisocial behaviour are often complex and multifaceted. A number of actions need to be taken to deal with them. That cannot sit with Police Scotland alone; it also has to involve people who work in child welfare so that we divert young people from such behaviour. That is something of which Alex Cole-Hamilton no doubt has knowledge, given his experience with the Aberlour Child Care Trust and its work with young people.

It is important that the agencies that have lead roles are very visible and proactive in dealing with the issue. On Alex Cole-Hamilton’s specific point concerning my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, I will ensure that his comments are brought to the cabinet secretary’s attention, and I will ask him to respond, in his engagements with Police Scotland, specifically to the points that Mr Cole-Hamilton has raised.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes the urgent question. I apologise to other members who wished to ask supplementary questions but, as members will be aware, we are running substantially behind time already in this afternoon’s business. We will move on to the next item of business in a moment.