Meeting date: Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 20 February 2019
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage, Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, St Rollox Railway Works
- Portfolio Question Time
- Hutchesons’ Hospital Transfer and Dissolution (Scotland) Bill: Preliminary Stage
- Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- St Rollox Railway Works
St Rollox Railway Works
The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15541, in the name of Bob Doris, on efforts to save the St Rollox railway works. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament expresses its dismay and disappointment at the reported proposal by Gemini Rail Services to close the St Rollox Railway Works, which threatens the employment of up to 200 highly-skilled workers in Springburn; considers that the St Rollox site has had a proud history within the world locomotive industry since 1856 and is still affectionately known as “the Caley”; understands, however, that its future is now under threat as a result of Gemini serving a statutory notice regarding redundancies, and that a 45-day consultation period has now commenced; regrets that the company has taken this course of action, which it believes is likely to reduce the time period within which to identify and implement solutions to save both jobs and operations at the site; acknowledges the formation of a stakeholder group in December 2018 by the Scottish Government, chaired by the transport secretary, which aims to save St Rollox Railway Works; notes that this stakeholder group was established following representations made to the First Minister on 13 December 2018 at First Minister’s Questions, and understands that there have been proactive efforts to save St Rollox Railway Works, including the Unite campaign, Rally Roon the Caley, which has made a number of suggestions such as the electrification of the track into the site to reduce business costs and the identification of contract work for the order book to allow the lifespan of St Rollox in its current form to be extended, and allow time for further work to restructure or diversify activities at the works.17:04
It is a privilege to lead this members’ business debate on the future of railway operations at the historic St Rollox site in my constituency, which has been a global player in the locomotive industry since 1856.
What is important is that we still have 200 jobs at the site, with 120 people directly employed and 80 agency workers. Those jobs are under imminent threat. New owner Gemini prematurely issued workers with a statutory 45-day consultation notice in January this year. That is a prelude to redundancies and closure. There is an order book until June this year, so such notices would not have been required until April this year, if they were required at all. That would have afforded precious time to work together to find solutions.
I thank the many MSPs from across the chamber who have signed my motion. I also thank Unite the union for its determined and challenging campaign to save both jobs and a railways future in Springburn. It is the job of unions to offer challenges and defend their members and I commend it for doing so. Many have decided to rally roon the Caley, as St Rollox is affectionately known, including Glasgow’s Evening Times newspaper, which is also championing the campaign. I warmly welcome its support.
This is the second debate of two debates on the matter and I thank all of those who contributed to yesterday’s debate, in which I reflected the anger and disillusionment that the workforce feel towards Gemini, as well as outlining the compelling reasons why many of us feel that it has not acted in good faith.
I am a member of Unite the union, but it would also be good to recognise that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—the RMT—has staff at the facility and also has an interest. I am sure that Bob Doris would like to join me in doing that.
I associate myself with those remarks. That is now on the record. I thank Ms Smith for that intervention.
Anger and disillusionment are absolutely justified, but such emotions alone do not save jobs. However, they can drive innovation and new ideas, and necessitate robust business planning and subsequent strategic action. Working in partnership with the rail industry, our public sector can secure both jobs and a long-term future for St Rollox.
I spoke yesterday about a pipeline of work that is available for railway engineering, repair and maintenance. However, the complex and, frankly, ludicrous system by which rolling stock is owned, leased, tendered and funded across the UK does not serve us well. I understand that Gemini has bid for all possible work, yet it has indicated that it would be likely to close Springburn even if all potential work were secured. I described that as a dereliction of duty. I request details of whether Scottish Enterprise has discussed the pipeline of work with Gemini in any detail and has sought to explore how that work could be viably procured and carried out at St Rollox; what work has taken place to define how many workers would be required for each contract; the skills mix that would be needed; and the length of time that each contract would run for. Such analysis would require a full understanding of overheads for materials, wages and site rent, and of how appropriate it is for Gemini to apportion central costs from its Milton Keynes headquarters on top of those overheads. Those costs included an eye-watering £1.16 million for 2018.
Such a detailed and costed business plan would be important, not only for Gemini to keep a presence at St Rollox but for any alternative company to seek to carry out operations at the site. Is such a pipeline of work, projected over several years, captured in any one document, and is that publicly available?
Any strategic approach to the Scottish railways sector must take a systematic look at the likely pipeline of work over the long term and look at capacity in the Scottish sector. Given that 60 per cent of that capacity is at St Rollox, the loss of the site would be a strategic blow to our economic infrastructure interests.
We know that Unite has made some specific proposals. I hope that the cabinet secretary can update us this evening on his most recent engagement with the union and discuss those proposals with us.
I have no idea whether the suggested transfer under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations is feasible or whether a workers buyout is a realistic prospect, nor do I know the shape of, or timescale for, the strategic railway hub at St Rollox that has been suggested. However, if those are achievable, we must try to secure them.
A key question is this: if Gemini is not bidding for work to be done at St Rollox, who will bid for that work and how can that be facilitated? For instance, has Unite asked for support to develop a business plan for a workers buyout or have third parties been actively approached and encouraged to bid for work to be carried out at St Rollox? I would welcome an update.
Let me refer to one contract in particular. I understand that Gemini bid for the refurbishment of 33 170 class trains for both ScotRail and Northern Rail. Unite speculates that that work could keep around 40 skilled workers employed at St Rollox for up to three years. That would retain a foothold at St Rollox for a meaty period of time and allow the possibility of a railway hub to be explored. However, there is concern that Gemini will win that work and carry it out at Wolverton in England. I urge Gemini and its parent company, Mutares, to ensure that, should that work be successfully procured, it will be carried out at St Rollox. Mutares cannot stay silent, and I hope that it can be a key player in helping to reset the relationship between Gemini and workers, Unions and other stakeholders. Gemini might be painting itself into a corner and perhaps Mutares can assist in finding a solution.
Yesterday, I claimed that Gemini was inflexible, unimaginative, unambitious and lacking in good will. I asked it to prove me wrong. It appears that it now has an opportunity to do that.
I hope that we can reset our relationship with Gemini. I have sought to do my bit, by helping to establish a stakeholder group, which will meet for the third time tomorrow; by trying to help reduce the cost base in relation to the lease; by seeking to reduce overheads and increase the range of work that can be carried out by pushing for electrification; and by urging that every delivery model to save jobs should be explored.
Yesterday, I mentioned that companies expand and contract depending on their order book and projected future business. Perhaps a railway hub at St Rollox, fully under public sector control, and with several companies operating from it, might emerge in the future. However, the imminent future that workers are concerned about involves two factors: their jobs and the continuation of a railway works at St Rollox. No matter what happens with Gemini, we must ensure that a railway works continues to operate at St Rollox. We must also maximise the opportunity for as many workers as possible to retain their skilled employment in Springburn and ensure that any worker who cannot do so has our utmost support to secure similar skilled employment in the west of Scotland.
Crucially, this must be a turning point for the railway industry in Springburn and for Scotland. Let us secure the long-term future of St Rollox, and its expansion in the years ahead. These are difficult and distressing times for the workers and their families, and we owe it to them to make that vision a reality.17:11
I thank Bob Doris for bringing the debate to the chamber. Passionate work has been done on the issue, as everyone has seen. I am sure that others will mention yesterday’s debate on a motion lodged by James Kelly, which I was in the chamber for the vast majority of. The fact that we are having two debates in one week on the issue demonstrates its importance.
There are a few reasons why I have chosen to speak tonight, not least of which is the fact that I have constituents who work at St Rollox, some of whom have contacted me on the issue. In particular, I mention Kevin Paterson, who got in touch to let me know about the devastating impact on him and his family if the works close—Bob Doris ended his speech by talking about that devastation. That gentleman is one person who has contacted me to tell me about the impact on him and on other workers in my constituency.
Yesterday, there was a good demonstration outside the Parliament and I thank the unions and others for organising it. I was glad to attend it, along with Bob Doris and others.
All of Scotland will be impacted—Alex Neil summed that up well in his speech yesterday. There are ties to our industrial past and, through that perhaps, solidarity between Glasgow, Lanarkshire and other areas that have the same rich heritage. As people know, such communities are intertwined and have a shared history and culture. Like others—I note James Kelly’s moving speech yesterday—I have often talked about that in the chamber; I have mentioned with pride my grandfather’s involvement in the heavy industries in Coatbridge and Lanarkshire as a whole. If he had still been here today, I know that he would have been fully behind the workers at St Rollox—there is absolutely no doubt about it.
Soon, the cabinet secretary will visit the Freightliner company in my constituency and I am sure that he will have a good experience. When I visited it, it was very enlightening. People at that company, too, will have full solidarity with the workforce at St Rollox, who are in a similar line of work.
I listened carefully to what Bob Doris said in his speech. Rather than knowing the ins and outs of the business model and what has happened at the works, I come at the issue more from the point of view of standing up for those of my constituents who have contacted me and for the interests of Scottish industry. It is clear that the company has not treated its workers fairly at all. There might be various solutions, some of which have been bandied about, and I am not sure what the best option would be, but I think that we are all agreed that every attempt should be made to save the jobs of the workforce, and my voice will be joining the voices of those who are calling for Gemini to do the right thing, to engage with the stakeholders group that Bob Doris and others have set up and to treat their workers fairly.
This is a massive moment for the rail industry in Scotland and the United Kingdom and for our industrial heritage and past. Although the operation is based in Glasgow, the situation has touched the hearts and minds of people around the country—it has definitely touched people in Coatbridge. We are all united in calling on the company to do the right thing and to stand by its workers.17:15
I thank Bob Doris for bringing his motion before the Parliament and I am pleased to participate in the debate. The site is not in my region, but the subject matter is very close to my heart and I have taken a great interest in it when meeting stakeholders in the rail industry over previous months.
We should congratulate both Unite—the union mentioned in the motion—and the others that members have mentioned who are standing up for the workforce in this matter. There have been serious communication problems in how it has been dealt with.
I followed yesterday’s debate. I did not participate in it, but I listened to some of the speeches and to the comments that my colleague, Annie Wells, made around the significant emotional attachment that many people in the Glasgow area have to the site. We heard stories of family members, friends, neighbours and colleagues who have worked at the site and been part of what has been a stronghold of Scotland’s rail industry for decades; at one point, it produced 60 per cent of our locomotive engines. We cannot deny that the Springburn site is a strategically important part of the Scottish rail industry and should remain so.
I listened with great interest to some of the discussions around why the site does not have a future, because of the types of contracts that it is getting. We have heard that the Scottish rail industry is undergoing a step change, and that is true; there are many positives, as we change technology and new carriages are introduced to the network. It is no secret that, in the coming year, more than 150 new electric carriages are coming on to the Scottish rail network from a number of providers and will be used on local, regional and cross-border services.
With that comes the electrification issue, and a site that is not adequately connected to the electric network will always suffer from a downturn in heavy maintenance in the diesel market. However, the downturn in heavy maintenance in the diesel locomotive market is UK and Europe-wide, and what strikes me is how other sites have been able to deal with that. The light maintenance site at Craigentinny, for example, has had to invest significantly in its infrastructure to accept different types of locomotives and has had to upskill its workers—and future-proof those skills—so that it can deal with new and emerging technologies.
As we start, I hope, to see hydrogen and battery-operated carriages coming online for the network, we will also see changes in how we get those carriages on to the sites. They should no longer have to be taken off electric networks and taken by road, which is unprofitable, difficult and cumbersome and will be the reason why many operators, inevitably, are not giving business to the Springburn site.
I will not touch too much on the politics of the issue, because a lot has been and will be said on how the issue has been handled. However, will the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity think about what conversations ScotRail has had with the current owners about how it could use the site?
There is a general, wider question about capacity on the network. Where will the maintenance work be done? There are competitors who are well equipped to take on some of the work, but they will have capacity issues. Are they willing to take on some of the St Rollox workforce? What are the opportunities from some of that work?
Bob Doris raises some fair points about other uses for the site. Will they require any form of intervention? Is intervention a possibility? What about the owners of the site, which I believe is under leasehold? Is there an appetite among the owners to work with the Government? There are intercity diesel and high-speed train refurbishment contracts coming up and I share the view that work on any of the ScotRail contracts should stay in Scotland.
I appreciate that we are short of time this evening and that a lot has already been said, but it is saddening that we are at this stage. It could have been possible to see this coming; the industry has been changing for a long time and it is unfortunate that we have ended up where we are.
I would like to think that the Government and its agencies are working not just with the current owners but with all potential owners, and with users of the site, to do everything that can be done to ensure that the workforce still has work for many years and decades to come.17:19
I repeat what I said last night: I congratulate Bob Doris on securing the debate tonight and James Kelly on securing the debate last night. The message that has been coming out last night and tonight is that we are united across the chamber in our determination to try to save not just the jobs but the operation at St Rollox, if possible.
I spoke last night, too, so tonight I want to concentrate on the practicalities of what we might be able to do to achieve the objective of saving the jobs and operation at St Rollox. There are two crucial issues. The first is the need to secure breathing space. We need Gemini to extend the deadline so that it does not pull out in the next two or three months, but at the end of the calendar year at the very earliest, to give us time to find a way forward that will secure the future operation of St Rollox. It will be extremely difficult to do that in the next few weeks: we need breathing space to put certain things in place in order that we can achieve our objective.
I do not disagree with Alex Neil. Does he agree that the Government could look at a public-ownership model, as part of that?
I am just coming to that very issue.
First, we need to buy time. The cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government should be using our influence and leverage indirectly in procurement of rolling stock to put pressure on the Geminis of this world to live up to our expectations of them. I do not see why we should continue to fund an operation in which companies treat us with contempt, with there being no price to be paid by those companies.
The second and more important issue is the options that we should look at. As I said last night, the transport hub option is worth looking at in detail, but there is a second model. I draw attention to two companies—one that is owned, and one that it is planned will be owned, by the Scottish Government. Unknown to many people, we have in the national health service a commercial subsidiary that is wholly owned by NHS Scotland. Its purpose is to commercialise the research and development that takes place in Scotland’s great health service. Although it is a small company, in principle it is a model that could be used to try to save St Rollox for the longer term. Also, the Government is planning a national energy company: that model might be applicable.
As well as considering the transport hub and any other ideas, we should also look at the idea of creating a company that is dedicated to the St Rollox works producing not just for the Scottish market, but for the wider market, in the future. Let us see whether we can put that together with investors from the public sector—Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government being two examples—by bringing in private investment where necessary, if we can, and by bringing in the workers and the unions for part ownership.
That would create a company that would be well capitalised and able to take over the St Rollox works and turn it into a long-term viable business. It would not be done just to safeguard existing jobs but to look towards expansion in the future, so that we can take full advantage of the work that will be coming down stream in years to come. It will require a lot of detailed work to establish whether that can be done—whether it would be financially viable and, if so, what we would need to do to make it happen.
I believe that such a public-sector-led model can work if we do our homework on it. However, we need time to put the business plan together, to raise the equity, to prepare the proposition and to ensure that we can make it viable. That is why the prerequisite now is to buy from Gemini the time that it owes the workers at St Rollox, and that it owes Scotland. If we can do that, we can turn the site into a phoenix rising from the ashes.
I am being quite lenient with time, because not many members have requested to speak. Therefore, I am quite content for you to take an extra minute or so, Mr Kelly. I will not be bothered.17:25
I congratulate Bob Doris on securing the debate, and compliment him for the work that he has done in support of the workforce at St Rollox. I again record my thanks to Unite the union and the RMT for the successful campaign that they have run. The depth of feeling and the emotion that we saw from the workers who were in the chamber and around Parliament last night are testament to the strength of those trade unions and to how important the issue is in the local community.
In speeches last night and tonight we have heard a lot about the case for retaining the plant at the Caley. We have heard about its strong history and traditions going back to 1856, about the many families who have worked at the site right up to the current day and, crucially, about the skilled workforce—the 200 people who are employed there. Important points have also been made about the rail industry in Scotland—how it has a very strong future and how it would make no sense at all to see the plant close when we need an industry that provides efficient and smooth-running rolling stock.
As I have mentioned, this is the second debate that has taken place on the matter. That allows us to press home some pertinent points that were perhaps not fully outlined in the chamber last night.
The issue that I would like to raise directly with the cabinet secretary is a contract in relation to ScotRail class 170 trains. It has been put to me that that contract has been set up to be awarded to the Wolverton works. If that is the case, it is wholly unacceptable. The contract for 33 trains is worth £8 million; it would start in December 2019, run for a three-year period and secure at least 40 of the current jobs at St Rollox.
The bulk of that work relates to ScotRail trains. On the subject of procurement, Alex Neil made the point that if work that is being bid for relates to ScotRail trains, it should be carried out in Scotland, at the Caley site; it should not be passed down to Wolverton. That is a matter of deep concern, so I ask the cabinet secretary to clarify the precise position on that contract. The Government must ensure that the contract remains at the St Rollox site. It should not be set up to go to Wolverton.
Before I put my point to James Kelly, I record my thanks to him for securing yesterday’s debate. It was remiss of me not to have done so at the time, so I hope that he will let me do so now.
Mr Kelly made an important point about the class 170 work. There will also be work in six months, a year, two years and three years. However, there seems to be a guddle about what the pipeline of work will look like. There needs to be much more openness and transparency across the railway sector on what work is likely to emerge, in order to allow for forward planning in the industry more generally, and for St Rollox in particular.
Bob Doris makes the valid point that a pipeline of work exists. There is also a skilled workforce at the site. There is broad agreement across Parliament: it is absolutely paramount that the Government ensures that, come 4 March, when the consultation ends, we do not see the site begin to close down. We need to keep it open.
That brings me to my final point. Bob Doris said that motions on their own do not save jobs. That is correct. What are needed now are not motions or warm words, but specific actions from the Government to ensure that, come 4 March, we still have the time, as Alex Neil said, to develop the models and ensure that work is in place, going forward. The Government needs to look not just at intervention, but at public ownership—if not on a permanent basis, at least on a temporary basis from 4 March. That would allow work to be done to assess the viability of the transport hub and how we can take forward electrification, which would ultimately save a lot in costs and make bidding for contracts more viable in the longer term. It would also allow us to look at how we can ensure that we get contracts in place.
It is crucial that the cabinet secretary give such assurances in his summing-up speech. I reiterate that if work for ScotRail is being awarded in contracts, we must intervene immediately to ensure that they are awarded to the St Rollox site, not to Wolverton.17:30
I add my thanks to Bob Doris for bringing this evening’s debate to the chamber and to James Kelly for bringing yesterday’s debate on the subject. I signed both motions but, sadly, I was not able to stay last night for James Kelly’s debate. I am pleased that I have been able to stay for this one.
As others have said, the unions should have all our thanks and support for the work that they are doing to respond to the immediate threat to about 200 highly skilled jobs. We need to do whatever we can to prevent that threat from becoming a reality and not only campaign against the planned closures, but find opportunities for the site to go forward with a stronger future ahead of it.
However, the debate also forces us to confront some deeper issues about the nature of ownership in our modern economy and the role of the private sector. Very few of us would suggest that the private sector should have no role at all in a modern economy, but too often at present private ownership comes with rights and not responsibilities, and we do not expect enough in terms of the commitment that owners need to show to the communities that they are engaged with. That applies whether we are talking about land ownership, housing, other buildings or ownership of companies.
As was remarked in yesterday’s debate, we are in a situation where a company that has owned the asset for not much more than five minutes can recognise it not as an asset that is of importance to the community and the economy but merely as part of its economic portfolio, and can decide to dispose of it in this way. To announce that in the run-up to Christmas showed nothing short of contempt for the community that is affected. We need to challenge the notion that private ownership confers absolute rights but not responsibilities to invest in and protect the people who are affected by the decisions that owners make.
We should also recognise the positive advantages that can come from public ownership, particularly in a situation such as this one, where there is no simple, continuous throughput of work. We should all be pleased that there are fewer very old carriages running around on Scotland’s railways, and we should all be pleased—I think that most of us are—that we are seeing upgrades and new rolling stock. Although that might mean a change to the amount of refurbishment work that will happen, that will not be forever. New rolling stock does not stay new and capacity to do the maintenance work that is required will continue to be needed.
The site has the skills, but it needs the infrastructure to be able to access the work that will be required in future to refurbish not only Scotland’s rolling stock, but that of other areas as well. Having travelled on a Northern train in the past week or so, I can confirm that some refurbishment work is needed there as well.
My question is on the point about continuous work on rolling stock. Given that two other businesses operate in the same space at the Springburn site, what effect would public ownership of one business have on the two privately owned businesses’ ability to accept contracts? It is a genuine question regarding Mr Harvie’s thoughts on that.
It is a serious question and I am sure that it is the kind of serious question that would have confronted the Scottish Government when looking at taking public ownership of Prestwick airport. There is another airport on the west coast of Scotland and there is the potential that a publicly owned airport might change the economic context of a privately owned airport. However, our objective and priority in making those kinds of decisions should not be to ask what is in the best interests of the shareholders who own the privately owned part of the economy; it is about what is in the best interests of the whole of our economy and the people who work in it, as well as the communities that are affected by that work.
I will reflect on some of the points that Alex Neil made about ownership in his speech, which I welcome. It was good that he took this opportunity to remind the Scottish Government that it already has a record of seeing opportunities for the role of public ownership in parts of the economy where the private sector is also active. Some of us would like that role of public ownership to be bigger than it is now, but the Scottish Government has a record of seeing opportunities for the role of public ownership. I encourage the minister to respond to those points in summing up.
I read the Official Report of yesterday’s members’ business debate and it seemed that the minister wanted to give more emphasis to the wider issues around the rail industry. I hope that he will take the opportunity when closing today’s debate to respond specifically to the two objectives of the Unite campaign. First, the minister reflected briefly on the electrification measures that the Scottish Government is looking into. Can he tell us what certainty that work is giving to the owners? Are they responding to it? Are there any signals that that will change their decision? Secondly, there is the wider point about a public intervention from the Scottish Government. Prestwick airport might not be the ideal model and perhaps, as Alex Neil suggested, there are other models. However, we need to hear a response from the Scottish Government on that specific proposition in order to know how we are going to move forward.
Bill Kidd will be followed by Neil Findlay, who will be the last speaker in the open debate.17:37
When we come in near the end of a really classy—I say this in all honesty—thought-out, intelligent debate, particularly one that stretches across the chamber, we sometimes feel as if most of what we want to say has already been said. However, I want to speak specifically to show the weight of support in the Parliament for St Rollox and the workers there. I am not saying that because I will bring weight to the debate, but because the numbers who speak in the debate should show that the Parliament cares a great deal about St Rollox.
I recognise the efforts of Bob Doris MSP, transport secretary Michael Matheson, and others to ensure that the voices and hopes of the workers at the St Rollox railway works are heard and prioritised at this very difficult time. In order to achieve the best possible outcome for the highly skilled and specialised workers at the Caley, good faith must be shown on all sides as well as a genuine commitment to honouring the years of high-quality efforts that the workforce at the site has shown. We must maximise the time available to ensure that all viable avenues are assessed and given due consideration.
St Rollox is a historic site, as has been said, and its loss would leave a gaping hole in the community. From 1856, the site powered the industrial revolution, with 60 per cent of the world’s locomotive engines being built at the Caley. It is a significant part of 19th century Scottish industrial history and its significance resonates to this day with the workforce. There might be operational changes to be made, but with reports of contracts having been turned away, there must be life left yet.
As I said, good faith must be shown and I urge Gemini to accept an independent review of its finances concerning operations at St Rollox, because independent analysis could lead to new approaches to business plans for the site and business going forward. I believe that that is the least that a responsible company could do as an employer.
The workforce at St Rollox comes not only from the Springburn area, but from across Glasgow and the west of Scotland, including my own area, Anniesland. The quality of work that it produces could not be easily replicated anywhere else. It is not just those who are directly employed at the Caley, but many others in the surrounding community, who rely on the viability of the working site.
A good and competitive business is built with planning, management and a skilled workforce. It would be a foolish investor who put money into a company that did not recognise that. I believe that Gemini should remember it, because I am sure that it would not want allegations that it appears to be driven by asset stripping.
The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity has played a key role in chairing the working group. I know that the Scottish Government will do its best to secure a viable St Rollox site and continuing jobs for the valuable workforce, and I think that the speeches in this debate will help to achieve that.17:40
I thank Bob Doris and James Kelly for securing debates on St Rollox. The site is not in my region, but it is a national asset and an important piece of our infrastructure, so I have an interest in it. When the plant was founded 160 years ago, I am sure that there were businesses making penny-farthing bikes. If those businesses were unable to keep up with the times and diversify into new products when penny-farthings went out of fashion, they would have failed and probably deserved to fail. However, that is not what is happening at St Rollox. The plant has kept up with the times—it has been able to keep up production throughout the whole period—so the analogy does not fit.
The workers do not need warm words or sympathy from us; I am sure that they have had heaps of that from others. What they need is action to protect their jobs and their futures. We cannot allow hugely important industrial sites to be passed on by company owners, time and again, with little care or regard for the wellbeing of those who produce the profits that generate shareholder dividends. That has happened more than half a dozen times to this company. It is not a lame duck, but a profitable business, but, as with the east coast line, a profitable business comes into public ownership, and what happens? It gets flogged to the private sector again. If it is profitable, what is the barrier to taking it into public ownership to generate profits for the industry, the sector or indeed the wider economy? If it were a lame-duck asset, I would see the point of shirking away from that approach, but it is not; the sector is profitable.
This could be the first part of bringing the rail sector and network back under public control. If it is too big an apple to eat in one bite, let us take it a wee bit at a time; this could and should be the first step in that process. Time and again, Scottish Enterprise provides grants to businesses that are absolute chancers, in my opinion. Look at what happened in my area over Christmas with Kaiam. Kaiam was given money by Scottish Enterprise time and again with very questionable conditions attached: it got support, but within a few years it was off, leaving 300 workers with no job. The St Rollox plant has been around for 150 years—surely it deserves the same support.
We know that our railways are run by the Dutch, but we could take the St Rollox asset under our control and run it as part of an incremental move towards full public ownership of the rail network. That is what we should be doing, particularly at a time when we are supposed to be moving freight and passengers off roads and on to rail, with all the implications that that has for our health, the environment and the economy. It would be absolute madness if we were to leave the plant to wither on the altar of laissez-faire economics, in which the market rules over long-term planning and sustainability.
I say to the cabinet secretary that sympathy is fine—I am sure that we all have sympathy for the workers—but that will not cut it. What the workers at the plant need is action from the cabinet secretary, and I hope that he will tell us tonight what that action will be.17:45
I congratulate Bob Doris on securing the debate. As I said in last night’s debate, Bob Doris is the local constituency MSP for the works and, on behalf of his constituents, he has been diligent in pursuing the issue and that of the future provision of a railway works on the St Rollox site. I will certainly continue to work with him on those matters through the stakeholders group and in the work that continues to be taken forward by Scottish Enterprise and Transport Scotland in partnership with the unions.
In last night’s debate, I highlighted to members the value of the railway industry to the Scottish economy and the fact that we are going through a period of unprecedented investment in the railway sector in Scotland. That is why it is particularly disappointing that Gemini has chosen to end its involvement at the St Rollox site. The Scottish Government is determined to do what it can to build up the sector. As I mentioned last night, the sector has often been overlooked and undervalued, but work is now being undertaken by Scottish Enterprise—with the sector—to build it up and sustain it. The attraction of Talgo to the Longannet site is a practical example of the work that we are doing to build up the railway industry in Scotland.
Having said that, the industry faces significant challenges because of the new rolling stock that has been introduced, as a number of members have pointed out. Some sites are largely dependent on undertaking heavy rail refurbishment work on British Rail rolling stock that was in the network prior to its privatisation, but the amount of stock that requires refurbishment is in decline, which is having an impact not just in Scotland but right around the UK and beyond.
A key part of our role is to do what we can to ensure that, when work is required to be undertaken on rolling stock, as much of that work as possible is done in Scotland. However, there are specific challenges to our achieving that. Bob Doris referred to the complexity of the rolling stock environment in the railway industry, which creates considerable challenges to ensuring that the work is undertaken in Scotland. Jamie Greene also highlighted the challenges in the sector and its changing nature.
Alongside that issue, the Springburn site is more than 160 years old. It was designed when the needs and demands of the industry were different, and it was designed in a way that does not reflect the needs and demands for the maintenance and refurbishment of modern rolling stock. That is why the hub idea, which I will come to later, is extremely important.
The reality for the site, as operated by Gemini, is that the work will be finished at the end of July. That deadline has been extended by additional work, as four trains have been put in by ScotRail for heavy engineering work. However, I echo the point that Alex Neil made: time is very limited. An issue that we have been discussing with Gemini is the need to build in more time to give us the opportunity to pursue wider options for providing sustainable employment on the site and ensuring that it can still be used for heavy rail work in the future.
That is why Scottish Enterprise and Transport Scotland have been involved with the whole rail sector in Scotland in considering how we can repurpose the site to give it a sustainable future and provide employment in the rail industry. However, that will take us some time to achieve. A key part of that work is considering how the existing site can be reconfigured to attract other interested parties to base themselves on that particular site.
The question of whether the line into the site could be electrified has been highlighted as an issue. It would mean the electrification of around 4km of line. I have directed Network Rail to look into undertaking that work, and the scoping work has started on whether that is one of the key things we need to deliver a new rail hub at the site. It will take time for that work to be carried out, but the feasibility and assessment work is already being undertaken by Network Rail.
I thank the minister for giving us some more information about that. We all understand that that work cannot be done at the snap of our fingers but will take some time. However, can the cabinet secretary tell us about the financial context of the decision that Network Rail may need to make? Or will the Scottish Government make the final decision? Would the money come from the Scottish Government’s budget or from Network Rail funds? Who will decide and who will pay once the feasibility work has been done?
In effect, the Scottish Government would have to pay for that through its contribution to Network Rail. The average cost is around £1 million per kilometre, so the electrification of the line into the site could cost us in the region of £4 million. That is why it is critical that, before we commission that work, we first consider how we can reconfigure the site and whether we can get rail industry work undertaken there.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
I will give way to Patrick Harvie again. However, I am very conscious of the time, Presiding Officer.
If members and the cabinet secretary are content, I am content to let the debate run a little longer. I will just check with the cabinet secretary about timings, as he may have other engagements. Are you content for the debate to run a bit longer, cabinet secretary?
I will continue as best I can, Presiding Officer.
Very briefly, does that cost not reinforce the need to find some way of recouping the public investment in the site—which will increase the value of that privately owned asset—either through a public ownership option or in some other way?
The site is owned by a private company at present—the leaseholder is Hansteen Holdings—and it is only fair to note that it is currently undertaking work on how it can reconfigure the site to make it more viable for the rail industry going forward.
As we consider the options for redeveloping the site, it is important that we focus on making it viable for the railway industry and its future needs as well as on creating sustainable employment for people on the site. That is central to the work that Scottish Enterprise and Transport Scotland are undertaking.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
I will give way briefly. However, I want to make progress, because I am very conscious of the time and I have other matters to deal with.
I thought that, cabinet secretary. The chamber will note that. Briefly, Mr Kelly.
Briefly, will the cabinet secretary address the point that I made about the ScotRail class 170 Turbostar contract—
Could you wait until I call you, cabinet secretary? Just a moment—sit down, please. I know that you are desperate to answer, but I do not want to have two of you on your feet at the one time. Just sit down now, Mr Kelly. I call the cabinet secretary.
I will address that point if the member lets me make progress on the issue.
Bob Doris raised the question of who, if not Gemini, will be on the site. It has been put to us that ScotRail or Network Rail should step in and take over the site. At the request of the Scottish Government, both parties have considered the matter in detail and have engaged with the trade unions on it. Neither ScotRail—which has existing capacity in its own engineering workshops—nor Network Rail requires the site at present. There is, however, the potential for them to be interested in being involved in some form of hub if that idea is progressed. That is why the work that we are doing with the industry to understand its needs in relation to the potential use of the site is critical to finding a sustainable future for the site.
The hub idea could see public and private sector involvement in creating the type of environment that would allow us to develop a sustainable future for the site, and that is exactly what we are working on. The hub idea would also meet the challenge that Alex Neil set, but it would take us time to do that. That is why we are applying as much pressure as we can to Gemini and Mutares, and it is why we are looking at other rolling stock providers to see whether there is any other work that can be put into the site in order to sustain it. We will continue to do that. We will not give up on the site. We will do everything that we can, but the time that we have is limited.
James Kelly raised the issue of the class 170 trains and the ScotRail element of them. Those trains are not owned by ScotRail; they are owned by a leasing company called Porterbrook, which has rolling stock leasing arrangements with ScotRail and another route franchise in the north of England. Part of the challenge is that the franchising nature of the industry means that the rolling stock is often owned not by the service provider but by private companies. Therefore, the decision on where the work should go is for Porterbrook, not ScotRail, as it owns the rolling stock.
We are trying to ensure that as much of that type of work as can be undertaken in Scotland is undertaken in Scotland.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
I am afraid that I need to make progress.
As has rightly been pointed out, a key part of that is recognising that several other companies in Scotland that employ significant workforces in the sector are involved in bidding for such work.
I think that Neil Findlay said something about franchising. We do not have any option on franchising. Legally, we have to franchise because of the Railways Act 2005. That continues to be the case. However, that is a debate for elsewhere, and it does not address the issue relating to Springburn.
In the limited time that we have had, we have worked very closely with the unions and the whole industry in Scotland to find a way to repurpose the site. We believe that the hub is the most effective way of achieving that, given the site’s design, and we are looking at how electrification of the site could meet the needs of the industry in the years ahead. We will continue to work with everyone to achieve that and, at the same time, we will press Gemini and others in the industry to give us more time to develop that work.
As things stand, all the Scottish Government’s agencies, from Scottish Enterprise to Transport Scotland and partnership action for continuing employment, are doing what they can. PACE stands ready to offer support and advice to the workforce as and where necessary. I assure members that we will continue to do everything that we can, within our limited abilities, to ensure that the site continues to be used for heavy rail purposes and that it continues to serve the industry in Scotland in the years ahead.
I thank all members for their contributions to this very important debate. I extended the time for the debate because it is important. I also thank the cabinet secretary for extending his time.Meeting closed at 17:58.