Election 2021

The Scottish Parliament is in recess ahead of the election on 6 May.

Because of Covid-19, there are some changes to how the Parliament prepares for the election.

Find out more in our Election 2021 pages

Skip to main content

Language: English / Gàidhlig

Loading…

Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 February 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Brexit (Response to European Union Exit Vote in Westminster), Scottish Rate Resolution, Social Security Committee Announcement, Decision Time, St Rollox Railway Works


Contents


St Rollox Railway Works

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15536, in the name of James Kelly, on the threatened closure of the St Rollox railway works. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament regrets the threatened closure of the St Rollox Railway Works, which is known as the Caley, by its new owners, Gemini Rail Services; believes that this places 200 highly-skilled jobs in Springburn at risk; understands that the workers have been served with a statutory notice and that a 45-day consultation period has been initiated; notes that a debate was held on the proposed closure in the UK Parliament, which was led by the MP for Glasgow North East, Paul Sweeney, on 14 January 2019; acknowledges the Unite campaign, Rally Roon the Caley, which is calling for onsite electrification to connect the depot to the Glasgow-Edinburgh rail line; notes the expressions of solidarity that have been sent to the workers at the Caley, and acknowledges the calls for the Scottish Government to do all that it can to secure this site, which has served Scotland’s railways since 1856.

17:06  

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

It gives me great pleasure to open the debate. I welcome members of Unite the union and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers to the Scottish Parliament chamber this evening. I am delighted that so many of the workforce have made their way from Springburn to support the debate. I know that they have made their views clear outside Parliament and by lobbying MSPs in committee room 4. I pay particular tribute to Unite the union’s rally roon the Caley campaign and the successful petition with more than 3,000 signatures, which shows the strength of feeling. I also thank all the MSPs who have supported the motion. I pay particular tribute to the constituency MSP, Bob Doris, who has worked hard on the issue, as well as the local MP, Paul Sweeney, who held a debate on the subject in the House of Commons.

This is a serious members’ business debate that comes at a vital time for the workforce, because people’s jobs are at threat and the proposal would have an impact on people’s lives. It is particularly poignant to look at the history of the Caley works in Springburn, which spans 160 years. Many families have a history and a tradition there. My uncle James White worked there throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and my cousin Clare recently recalled on Facebook that many of the families used to go down to the works to see the engines being built and sometimes to crawl under them. That shows the memories and the powerful emotion attached to the subject. Many people in the public gallery carry on those traditions, and I know that there are people who have worked at the site for more than 30 years. We do not want that experience and expertise in the repair and maintenance of engines to be lost.

We are at a crucial time, because we are now in the period of consultation that was launched by the employers, Gemini, which will close on 4 March. We cannot allow the clock to run down to 4 March while nothing happens. That would be catastrophic not only for the workers in the public gallery but for the local community and the wider economy.

When a factory is threatened by closure, people quite often—and correctly—focus on the economic case for keeping the factory open. In this case, there is a really powerful argument for keeping the Springburn plant open. We have many debates on rail services in this chamber. Although there are some heated disagreements around First ScotRail and Abellio, one thing that we all agree on is the importance of maintaining infrastructure and efficient rolling stock. The Caley works has an important role to play not only in that work but in growing the economic base and contributing to the economy.

The other thing to bear in mind is the importance of the skills within the workforce. That is shown by the January sales figure for the plant of £1.8 million, which is greater than the forecast for the period of £1.6 million. That demonstrates how well and how diligently the workforce performed at a very difficult time, when jobs were under threat. If that figure were to be maintained throughout the year, annual sales would total £21.6 million.

We should in no way be ending the history of the plant, the economic asset or the great skills of the workforce on 4 March. We need action now. That is why, along with Unite and the RMT, I am calling for direct intervention by the Government in this case to look at the option of public ownership. That has been done before, with Prestwick airport, and the economic case is very strong for that to be done at Springburn.

A number of things that would make the site even more viable could be looked at, such as electrification of the line from the site into Glasgow. Currently, when locomotives and engines are retained there it costs £10,000 to move them in and out of the site. Electrification would save that cost. Unite has also pointed to the potential for a transport hub there, bringing ScotRail and Network Rail together.

The Government should, as a minimum, enlist the services of Scottish Enterprise to bring all the agencies together and look at the economic case. It is crucial that we do not go beyond 4 March without any sort of Government intervention, even if it is done on a temporary basis to allow the work to continue and the essential economic assessment to be carried out. We need action now.

It is great that the workers are in the public gallery this evening. When Michael Matheson responds to the debate, I urge him to speak directly to the workers. They have come here this evening because they want to see some sort of intervention from the Government. There is a big responsibility on Mr Matheson. You are a Falkirk MSP now, but I know that you grew up in Glasgow, in Toryglen, and know the devastation that the loss of these jobs would cause.

Along with the other MSPs in the chamber, I am asking for Government intervention now. Look at the option of public ownership. Act now, before 4 March, so that we can save these jobs and the economic asset that is the Caley works and allow it to continue, not only so that people still have their livelihoods but so that they can continue to make that massive contribution to rail services and the wider Scottish economy.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I say to those people in the public gallery that it is a delight to have you here but I would appreciate it if you would not clap, boo, jeer or do anything at all. Thank you.

Members should not speak directly to one another but should speak only through the chair. I ask for speeches of four minutes, please.

17:14  

Alex Neil (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

I congratulate James Kelly on securing the debate, Bob Doris on securing his debate tomorrow night and the two of them collectively on persuading the Parliamentary Bureau, for the first time in 20 years, to have two debates on the same subject on consecutive days. It is well merited in this case because of the importance of the issue. It is not just a Springburn issue or a Glasgow issue; it is a Scottish issue, and it is about the future of our industrial base.

I will first say a word or two about the company that currently owns the facility—Gemini Rail Services, a subsidiary of Mutares, which is based in Munich. I am in no way naturally hostile to foreign companies coming into Scotland to produce work, because that is how the modern world works. However, I object to people being treated with contempt, which is exactly what is happening here and what has happened far too often in Scotland’s industrial history.

The facility has been going since 1856—despite the rumours, I was not at the opening ceremony—and, for all those years, it has serviced not just the market in Scotland but the wider market across the United Kingdom. I have no doubt that, if the facility were to close, the first-class workers there—many of them are first-class engineers—would find no difficulty in getting another job, because they are already being poached by other companies in the west of Scotland and beyond. That is not the fundamental issue.

For the Scottish economy, the fundamental issue is how we can retain capacity in a sector that has a growth future. If the sector was like the diesel cars sector, whose long-term future is highly questionable, we would be in a different situation, but it is not. This engineering repair and maintenance facility has a potential future if we are able to put that future together. It is extremely important that we send out a loud and clear message from across all the parties in the chamber that we, as a Government and as a Parliament, must do everything that we can in the limited time that is left to save the facility—not for yesteryear, although that is important, but for tomorrow’s jobs and economy.

The first thing that we must do is get the company to see sense and keep the facility going for at least another three to six months. It has the orders to do it. That would give us time to look at all the options, which are being looked at by the stakeholder group and others, and see which it is possible and practical to move forward. In my view, those options should include the possibility of setting up a dedicated company instead of trying to sell the facility to another company as a branch operation. We should be entrepreneurial and see whether we can create a new dedicated company to take over the capacity, perhaps with funding from the private sector along with the public sector. We should also look in detail at the transport hub idea. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

The message from the debate tonight must be that we should explore every single option urgently and ambitiously, think outside the box and be entrepreneurial. We must do everything that we can not just to save the jobs—although that is critically important—but to save the future of this facility if we can.

17:19  

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I draw members’ attention to my register of interests, particularly my membership of the trade union Unite.

I thank James Kelly for bringing this important industrial matter to the Scottish Parliament. It is precisely the kind of issue that the Parliament was established to address: what Michael McGahey described as the case for a decentralised and devolved Parliament

“in order to involve the people of a country in the operation of power at every possible level.”

That is why I am delighted that so many workers who are at the centre of the campaign and in the fight of their lives are here tonight in the gallery.

I am sure that there will be no shortage of speeches that recognise—some might even glorify—the important role that the Caley has played in Scotland’s industrial past, but I want to talk about its present and its future. It remains the largest train repair and maintenance site in Scotland. Its loss would mean that we would no longer be able to repair and maintain our railway rolling stock, which we have been able to do since the dawn of the steam age.

Since its privatisation in 1995, the Springburn works has been owned by Babcock International/Siemens, Alstom, RailCare and Knorr-Bremse, which sold it to Mutares. Last year, Mutares formed a new company called Gemini Rail, which is a wholly owned subsidiary that, according to Companies House, was previously known as Knorr-Bremse Railservices UK Limited.

There is something fundamentally wrong with how our economy works when a site can change hands so many times in such a short space of time with little or no say for the workers—the very people whose livelihoods depend on it. In 23 years, the site has been in British ownership, German ownership, French ownership and is now in German ownership again—but it should be in public ownership.

There is something else fundamentally wrong with our economy when the power to decide the future of 200 jobs, to extinguish thousands of years of collective working experience and to close down a critical part of our productive base that has been in place for over 150 years, rests with a new company that has owned the business for only a matter of weeks. It cannot be right that an owner who is just in the door has so much more power than the workforce, which is successfully delivering to budget, meeting targets and generating profits.

I will focus now on the future of the Caley, because there is nothing pre-ordained about what is happening—there is no invisible hand of the market locking the padlock on the factory gates, and no iron law of history determining that the Caley works should close. Indeed, I say this to the cabinet secretary today: we make our own history, so why does he not seize the moral, social and economic imperative that demands action and Government intervention to save the jobs and that vital part of our productive base?

Gemini Rail is bidding for work on the ScotRail class 170 Turbostar contract, which has a value of about £8 million. That represents 40 per cent of the annual turnover of the Caley site. However, if Gemini wins the work, it will be carried out in Milton Keynes. We would therefore have a situation in which we would be transporting railway carriages—no doubt by road—to a site that is some 400 miles away.

The Caley site needs a bit of vision. It needs an innovative Government that has ambition and which is prepared seriously to consider bringing the site back into public ownership as part of a commitment to bringing the whole railway system back into public ownership. That is what the workers deserve, and that is why I am happy to give my full support to their campaign to save their jobs and the Caley site. Let’s save the Caley.

17:23  

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

I thank James Kelly for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The strength of feeling regarding the issue can easily be shown by the fact that this week there will be two separate members’ business debates on the St Rollox railway works—otherwise known as the Caley—and by the large number of RMT and Unite members in the gallery this evening. I apologise to them, because I meant to pop along to see them today but could not get out to do so. However, I am more than happy to meet them later.

The debate is, for me, certainly tinged with many emotions. However, more important, there is great sadness, concern and regret that the historic works are under threat.

I grew up in Springburn and still live there, and the railway has always played an important part in my life. My dad was a guard at the Cowlairs depot, and friends, family and neighbours of mine have worked at the Caley. Indeed, the site continues to employ many people who live locally and for whom the railway industry is the only industry they know. They are also extremely passionate about it. With 120 full-time jobs at stake there, and many other jobs linked to agencies at stake, the situation is at a critical point.

The site’s historic links cannot be overstated, and they deserve to be highlighted—in particular, with regard to the current situation. At the height of the industrial revolution, the site at Springburn was used by Caledonian Railway, which moved there from Greenock. That gave a major economic boost to the area and kept it in pace with major industry changes that were occurring across the UK.

The site has not failed to keep pace with technological changes over the years, including up to this very day. In recent years, the works have played a key role in overhauling many of ScotRail’s class 156 and class 320 trains.

Many livelihoods are at stake and many families in an area that I know well are being affected. The Government should do all that it can to help to secure a future for the vital site.

We have read reports of a meeting on 23 January between the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, Unite the union and the site owner—Gemini Rail Services UK. That is almost a month ago. The consultation period ends in under two weeks. I would like to think that more discussions involving all interested stakeholders are planned.

I was pleased to hear that the Scottish Government has urged Transport Scotland to accelerate a commission to look at electrification of the depot. Electrification is certainly a viable option for the future of the site, given its geographical location. I, too, support that idea. Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on how the calls to Transport Scotland on potential electrification at the Caley are progressing?

I back the calls that have been made to extend the consultation period in order to allow more time for the depot to be saved. The Caley is not a site that is beyond saving; in fact, it is the exact opposite. That is why it was such a shock when plans were announced to close the much-loved site and why there is such a fight to save it from closure.

I fully believe that the St Rollox railway works have a viable part to play in the economy of Springburn and beyond, and that the closure going ahead would be utterly devastating for the local community.

I hope that the debates in Parliament and the passion that members across the chamber have shown will redouble efforts to find a way forward ahead of the consultation period ending. That is the minimum that the workforce and their families deserve.

17:27  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests. I am a member of Unite the union.

I thank James Kelly for lodging his motion, which has allowed the debate to take place, and for his campaign work in solidarity with workers at the Caley alongside the Glasgow North East MP, Paul Sweeney, Unite the union and the RMT.

As we heard from members of the RMT and Unite the union on the streets outside Parliament earlier, and from James Kelly, Richard Leonard and other members in the debate, the Labour movement is clear that we cannot and will not allow St Rollox to close. That would be devastating for the hundreds of highly skilled workers at the Caley and their families and communities, and for the long-term future of railway engineering in Scotland. The skills that would be lost might never be recovered. The Scottish Government and the Parliament owe it to the workers at the site, the local communities and the Scottish railway engineering industry to protect that national asset and take every possible measure to stop the closure. That includes the Scottish Government intervening, if necessary, to take over the lease of the site from Hansteen Holdings.

Labour unashamedly supports public control of our railways. That is not a return to a 20th century model of nationalisation; it is a modern, 21st century vision of democratic ownership that puts passengers, not profits, first. It is a vision that recognises that public transport is a public service. If that vision means that where there is market failure in key sites that serve our public transport system, those key sites are brought under public ownership, so be it. That would not be a last resort; it would be an opportunity to develop a publicly owned Scottish railway engineering hub to meet the needs of the Scottish rail sector.

St Rollox is the largest rolling stock repair site in Scotland. If we want Scotland’s railways to be maintained, refurbished and repaired in Scotland, we need to save the site. Despite the challenges that it has faced, it is clear that, with work to keep it operational during 2019, the site is financially viable. It has a turnover of more than £20 million a year, but it has been let down by the owner’s transfer of posts south of the border and by a lack of vigour about securing contracts, which has left the site to wither on the vine, instead of reaching the potential that we know it has.

That is why every option needs to be explored to secure the site’s future and why the site needs support to grow, which includes electrifying the line to the depot. That small investment would have huge benefits, as it would give the site access to a significant market that has been closed off until now and is critical to future proofing the depot. Diesel multiple units now make up just 12 per cent of pipeline rolling stock orders, so electrification is a necessity for the site’s future.

Beyond that, we need investment in diversifying the depot to protect existing skills, ensure that it is not overly dependent on one form of work and protect the site against the cyclical nature of project work, which currently plagues the rolling stock engineering industry. We also need to look again at the impact of the way in which rolling stock is procured and at the impact of design, build and maintain contracts on the location of works and the skill base.

The crisis at Springburn brings home to us all the huge issues that the industry faces. A new strategy to protect those in a skilled workforce who have given their careers to the rail industry is needed now more than ever before.

We have fewer than two weeks to secure the site—to rally roon the Caley and save the jobs at Springburn. The depot’s closure would be devastating for the workforce and the community, and it would have a lasting impact on the Scottish rail engineering industry. There are alternatives to closure, including taking the site back into public hands, which the Government needs to pursue vigorously. The Government needs to show solidarity with the workers who have come here to give us a strong message today.

17:31  

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak and I thank the workers from the Caley, which is in my constituency, for coming to the Parliament. I will lead a second debate on the same theme tomorrow evening, when I will have more time to expand my comments and go into much more detail.

Gemini, which is the owner of St Rollox, does not appear to have acted in good faith. It put off engaging with Scottish Government agencies and it stunned employees in Springburn by announcing before Christmas its intention to close the site. I raised the matter at First Minister’s question time and visited St Rollox to meet workers.

I asked the First Minister to establish a stakeholder group that would save jobs and save the site for the future. That group will meet for a third time on Thursday. Gemini’s interaction with the group has lacked imagination and flexibility. When I met Gemini in December, it emerged that its order book would run until June 2019. That meant that any statutory process for redundancies—which we did not want anyway—did not need to commence until April this year.

I urged Gemini not to commence the redundancy process early and instead to use the time to consider alternative plans, but Gemini ignored that request, and needless notices were served to workers in January. That showed a lack of good will and of good faith. I make a plea to Gemini again to halt the process—it is not required.

I am concerned about Gemini not proactively seeking work and about it lacking enthusiasm and commitment when it seeks orders for its order book. I informed Gemini that the owner of the St Rollox site would be interested in thinking imaginatively to reduce the cost base and work collaboratively with Gemini or whoever occupied the site. It took me to contact the owner and push that forward; Gemini had not explored that option, which is a dereliction of duty.

At the stakeholder meeting, Unite and I raised the prospect of electrification of the line at St Rollox to further reduce business costs and potentially open the site up significantly to a greater range of work. The Scottish Government is actively exploring that. Efforts to find a solution and save jobs continue, but Gemini appears ambivalent at best. I hope that Gemini will take exception to my painting of it as inflexible, unimaginative, unambitious and lacking in good will. I say to it: “Please take exception, but prove me wrong and step in to save these jobs.”

In 2018, St Rollox made a gross profit but a marginal net loss—a tiny loss against its £20 million turnover—when overheads were applied. Gemini then allocated central costs of £1.16 million. We are not sure why. Gemini urgently needs to disaggregate those costs, so that we can better understand the numbers. That will improve the prospect of attracting public or private sector investment.

I mentioned work that Gemini could bid for. Gemini has asserted that even if it won that work, it may still seek to close the site. That is an astounding and short-sighted position—in fact, it is unacceptable.

Gemini appears to have made no effort to explore how it could expand or contract operations at Springburn based on a changing order book. Could Gemini limit redundancies, maintain operations and expand in the future? Of course it could. Is it trying to do that? No, it is not.

We have heard that there could be up to 100 jobs at Wabtec Rail Scotland in Kilmarnock for those who might be made redundant in Springburn. We do not want there to be redundancies. The Wabtec offer could be welcome as part of a planned contraction at Springburn where key skills are retained at the site, so that there can be further expansion, but that is not happening. Where Gemini has not shown vision, we must.

Unite has asked for the Scottish public sector to explore taking over the site and to consider the issue under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. That request must be considered. I will say more tomorrow about how Unite believes that there could be a viable order book for St Rollox from around December 2019, and I will explore the prospect of securing a railway hub at Springburn for generations to come.

On those two suggestions, I have one key point: the Scottish public sector must have strategic control over the St Rollox site. At the very least, that requires a long-term agreement between the public sector and the owners of the site, not Gemini. If the site is to be invested in as part of the strategic infrastructure of Scotland’s railways, we must have strategic control over it. I urge the cabinet secretary to comment on that.

I look forward to exploring some of the issues in more detail tomorrow, including the potential for a workers’ buyout. In the meantime, I appeal to Gemini to come to the table in a meaningful way to discuss various ideas, and for its parent company Mutares to be more hands-on in doing the right thing by a workforce that is working on a site that has been around since 1856.

I remain absolutely committed to rallying roon the Caley and will return to these issues during tomorrow’s debate.

17:37  

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

It is customary to congratulate the member who has done so on securing a debate, but I do not suppose that James Kelly would want me to congratulate him in this case. However, I congratulate the combined work of James Kelly, Bob Doris and Paul Sweeney and, most of all, of the RMT and Unite in dealing with the issue.

At this stage of the debate, most of the issues have been mentioned. I will touch on Richard Leonard’s point about the succession of private companies that have been at the site following privatisation in 1995. The obligation that has been placed on each and every one of the companies that have taken over has been to maximise profit for their shareholders, and many of them will have had but minimal regard for the workforce. Alex Neil entirely appropriately used the word “contempt”. There is no contempt from the Scottish Green Party—we will lend our unequivocal support to any group of workers who are in such a situation.

I will talk about the broader rail situation and how fragmented the rail industry is across the UK. We have the track and infrastructure, the franchises, the freight-train operators and the rolling stock, which is primarily owned by the rolling-stock leasing companies. Rail enjoys significant public subsidies, but there are a lot of folk to get their cut.

The role of the St Rollox premises is important not only to the immediate communities. As others have said, it is a national asset. It is certainly the Scottish Green Party’s view—others here share it—that rail, including the infrastructure and support services of which engineering is an important part, should be in public ownership, and should be run exclusively in the public interest. We would start by removing the franchise from Abellio ScotRail. Would that sort out everything? No, it certainly would not, but it would mean that strategic direction could be given.

We know that staff at the works have in recent years been focused on rolling stock and component refurbishments. I am grateful for the letter from Mick Cash, who is the general secretary of the RMT, in which he mentions the format of contracts—they are to design, build and maintain—and commends the approach of taking an integrated rolling-stock strategy. That needs to be considered seriously. The fragmentation and lack of a single direction that operates exclusively in the public interest result in many problems.

The Caley is the largest rolling-stock repair site in Scotland; there are two other smaller ones. I will not repeat all the figures, which are clear for everyone to see, but I will say that there are very clear opportunities. We know that new rolling stock is coming in that will demand less repairs and maintenance, but inspecting, repairing and replacing are also integral parts of the system.

As has been touched on, 88 per cent of rolling stock will be electric. I welcome the expansion of electrification and appreciate all that will be said about control periods, but if a collaborative approach is to be taken, we will need to ensure electrification of all depots. It is ridiculous even to say that: it should be a given.

We heard about a £1 billion road today. The costs are insignificant for the benefits that can be accrued. I am aware that the white-collar operations have moved to Milton Keynes. I am very supportive of consideration of other innovative approaches, including a transport hub.

We support the devolution of network rail and want a publicly run rail network, but the nature of rail is such that there will co-operation across these small islands. However, Scotland will—I quote from the Westminster debate—be at

“a huge strategic disadvantage in maintaining its own rolling stock, depending on railway maintenance facilities in other parts of the UK”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 14 January 2019; Vol 652, c 984.]

Prestwick has been mentioned: I would like to give two examples from my area, where public sector involvement in transport can be for wider public benefit. They are Caledonian MacBrayne and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.

There are comparators. I am not impressed with the idea of the entrepreneurial. I just want the Scottish Government to do what is in the interest of the Scottish people, which is to maintain the Caley site.

17:41  

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I am a member of Unite and convener of the RMT’s parliamentary group. I welcome members of both unions and Paul Sweeney MP here tonight. As others have done, I thank James Kelly for bringing the debate to the chamber and will make a short contribution in support of that. I also thank Bob Doris for his motion, which will be debated tomorrow evening.

As others have said, the Caley site in Springburn is the biggest depot of its kind in Scotland and is essential to the servicing and supporting of Scotland’s railways. The importance of and expertise in the services at the Caley were recognised when the site was sold onto Mutares only last year: at that time its chief executive officer said:

“RailServices ... hold a unique market position in the UK, providing excellent expert services and know-how for the railway industry. Both companies have strong growth potential and are an ideal match for our ongoing operations.”

Therefore, it is shocking that only six months later the staff are on statutory notice. The site had already suffered a reduction in staffing levels over the years and, disappointingly, was not given assistance by the Government in 2013, when former owner Railcare was placed in administration. Now we know that more than 200 highly experienced staff face an uncertain future. Unfortunately, the Government does not appear see the situation as urgent. I will explain why I say that.

In October, when it was highlighted that the lease was up for renewal, I lodged questions regarding the future of the Springburn site. I was advised four weeks later that

“Officials from Transport Scotland have made contact with Gemini Rail Services UK Ltd, the division of Mutares who have taken over Knorr Bremse RailServices and will be meeting representatives soon to discuss the future of the Springburn site, its staff and its workload”.—[Written Answers, 22 November 2018; S5W-19637]

Considering that the transport secretary had already been made aware of the situation directly by the staff and their trade unions, it is surprising that no meetings took place earlier.

The busy site has an unrivalled and excellent work record, and it has the largest capacity in Scotland to service orders and has invested in key specialist equipment. Given the amount of public money that the Government is happy to invest in Abellio ScotRail, it is concerning that the potential loss of such a major support site is not high on its agenda. Two debates on the matter are taking place this week, so I hope that it is now on its agenda. I am sure that we will hear about that from the minister in his summing up.

We are all too aware of the constant disruption to passengers as trains seem to break down weekly and, more often than not, toilet services are out of use. I can only imagine the difficulties that will be caused if the future repair and maintenance is to take place more than 300 miles away and cannot be completed at the Caley. I support James Kelly in his call for Government intervention and public ownership.

The general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said:

“The planned closure of the Springburn Rail Depot in Glasgow is an act of industrial vandalism”.

Every effort must be made to ensure that our Scottish railways are supported by the expertise and knowledge that are readily available at the Caley. This Parliament and Government must make a stand against that unjustified, costly and short-sighted act of industrial vandalism. Public ownership is the way forward. I again thank James Kelly for bringing this important debate to Parliament.

17:45  

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

I congratulate James Kelly on securing time for the debate. I am conscious that this is one of two debates this week on the Caley and the future of the facility. I am also conscious that I need to put on record my thanks to the local member, Bob Doris, who has been diligent in pursuing the matter on behalf of his constituents and the site, which is in his constituency. He has pursued the matter with vigour and I respect his commitment to achieving the best outcome for his constituents and the site’s future use.

Given that we are having two debates on the matter, in tonight’s debate I will emphasise the importance that we attach to the rail industry in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s investment in rail is at an unprecedented level, and we are ensuring that we make the right type of investment in our rail services. For example, over the past four years, as part of our support for the ScotRail franchise, some £475 million has been invested in new and refurbished rolling stock. Some £36 million of that has been invested at the site in Springburn for the purposes of refurbishment work.

Alongside our wider work within the industry—whether we are talking about the Caledonian Sleeper or the new Hitachi trains that are being introduced—the refurbishment of our rolling stock has been taking place at Wabtec Rail Scotland in Kilmarnock, Brodie Engineering’s facilities in Kilmarnock and Alstom’s Polmadie traction and rolling stock maintenance depot as well as at the Springburn site. A range of depots have therefore been used for the refurbishment work that has been undertaken in Scotland. There has also been investment by Hitachi in the Craigentinny site, in relation to maintenance of particular rolling stock.

There is no doubt that the investment has benefited passengers and has helped to sustain and support employment. We want that to continue.

I think that the contribution that the sector makes to our economy has historically been underrecognised. I do not think that it has been properly recognised that the sector is able to sustain investment over an extended period. Too often, companies find themselves with or without work, depending on leasing arrangements and how the rolling stock operators take forward their investment programmes.

A significant number of people are employed in the sector in Scotland. It is estimated that in the region of 1,200 workers are directly involved in the maintenance and presentation of train fleets on a daily basis, which is a significant workforce across the country. Those are skilled jobs that we will continue to require if we are to sustain and improve our public transport network.

Let me share with members my view on how underrecognised the sector has been over an extended period. It is estimated that the gross value added of the rail industry’s supply chain is in the region of £668 million per year and that the industry sustains some 13,000 people in employment.

As I mentioned, the sector is important and is one that we want to grow, which is why we have sought to attract, and have been successful in attracting, Talgo of Spain to look at using the Longannet site to develop a new site for train manufacturing in Scotland, which could create up to 1,000 jobs.

That is why it is disappointing that Gemini Rail has taken the approach that it has taken with the workshops in Springburn. Despite repeated direct requests to postpone or delay the consultation exercise, it has refused to do so. It is therefore important that we continue to work to provide additional time for the matter to be considered in greater detail. I again call on Gemini Rail to delay any decisions relating to the site to allow us to undertake further work on the issue.

James Kelly

I appreciate the overview of the rail industry that the cabinet secretary has provided, but, in relation to the consultation that is under way, can he set out what specific steps the Government intends to take to stop Gemini Rail handing out redundancy notices after 4 March? I think that is what the workers in the public gallery want to hear.

Michael Matheson

I am coming to that point.

Some of the things that Labour members have said about the level of engagement are not accurate. I assure members that, as soon as there was an indication that there were concerns about the site, Transport Scotland officials engaged with the company and Scottish Enterprise to look at the issues. Since reaching the point at which concerns have been raised about Gemini Rail’s decision on the future use of the St Rollox site, Transport Scotland and Scottish Enterprise officials have been engaged in the process, as have I.

Elaine Smith

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

Michael Matheson

I need to make progress. There is another debate on the subject tomorrow night, in which the member can raise her issue, if she chooses to.

We have been working with the sector to identify whether we can change Gemini Rail’s mind or look at repurposing the site in a way that gives it a sustainable future. That is where the hub idea for the industry comes in—it involves considering how we could use the site for heavy rail and heavy engineering work in the future. Through Scottish Enterprise and Transport Scotland, we have been giving focus to that work. We want to utilise the site sustainably in the future to support the rail industry in Scotland on heavy engineering matters.

In order to do that, we must take a number of actions. One such action that has been suggested is the electrification of the line into the works. Mr Kelly was misguided when he said that he would like me to consider doing something about that, because we are already doing something about that. The work to evaluate whether electrification of the line into the site would support its continued use for heavy rail purposes has already been commissioned. Network Rail has been directly commissioned to undertake that work. That decision was made last month in an effort to make progress on the issue.

Annie Wells raised the same issue, but the proposed electrification cannot happen at the drop of a hat. A detailed piece of work must be undertaken on the electrification of what could be about 4 miles of line into the depot to make it suitable for any other company coming in. It will take time to do that work, which is why we need to work with Gemini Rail and others in the industry to provide more time to allow the site to be preserved.

The repurposing of the site is critical in that regard. I will go through a number of the steps that we are taking. Scottish Enterprise is engaging with the whole of the rail sector in Scotland to look at how it might utilise the site if we were to move to a hub model in the future. As part of that process, there has been engagement with the site owner. Gemini Rail does not own the site; Hansteen Holdings owns the site, which it leases out. The present leasing arrangements do not appear attractive to other potential operators, so Hansteen is working with Scottish Enterprise to consider how it could change the leasing arrangements and the existing site arrangements to make the site more attractive for others in the industry to use. That work is being undertaken, and we expect to get a report from Hansteen in the next couple of weeks, setting out how other companies could be supported and encouraged to come to the site.

Alongside that, Scottish Enterprise is working with all those in the rail industry in Scotland to see how they could come together to utilise the site if it moved to a hub model. That work is being undertaken formally with a partnership right across the industry, and it will continue to be undertaken in order to achieve a sustainable future for the site.

I am conscious of the time. A number of points have been raised, and I will try to address them in tomorrow night’s debate, given that we will have a second opportunity to look at the matter then.

I assure all members and the workers in the public gallery that, as a Government, we are doing everything within our powers to make sure that the site will continue to be utilised for heavy rail purposes in the future and that we will continue to work with all those in the industry to realise that in the weeks and months ahead.

Meeting closed at 17:55.