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


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 23 November 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Rail Services, Social Security, Business Motion, Decision Time, Year of the Dad


Rail Services

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a statement by Humza Yousaf on rail services. The minister will take questions at the end of the statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions during it.


The Minister for Transport and the Islands (Humza Yousaf)

I am grateful to Parliament for the opportunity to make a statement about our railway network. Let me be quite clear. Everyone rightly expects a railway network that operates effectively, so when things go wrong, I fully understand the dissatisfaction of passengers and the inconvenience that is caused.

Before I set out information on the performance of our railways, the actions that we are taking and the long-term transformation that we have planned, I say to any passenger who has had a bad experience on our railways that I am sorry and that this Government is committed to improving the service that they receive.

On any transport system, there will always be incidents beyond our control that interrupt service. In respect of last Thursday’s failure at Edinburgh Waverley, I add my regret to that which the First Minister expressed. The breakdown happened at the worst place on the network and at the worst time, and it had a massive effect.

Although no minister in any Government can guarantee that major failures will not happen, I can advise that ScotRail has learned lessons to ensure that it is better prepared for contingencies and, importantly, for communication with passengers when such incidents take place. Indeed, today, we have seen a much more responsive reaction from ScotRail to the incident that, regrettably, affected a large number of commuters in the Glasgow area.

Let me be clear: this Government expects the highest possible standards of our rail industry, and to achieve that we have set some of the toughest targets of any franchise in the UK. The franchise agreement asks for 91 out of every 100 trains to arrive at their destination within the recognised industry punctuality measure. I have no intention of underplaying either issues for passengers or the effect that a slide in service quality can have on individuals’ journeys, but it is important to recognise that, in a number of areas, that target is being met. On the Glasgow to Dunblane line, for example, 93 per cent of services meet that target. For Ayrshire services, the figure is 93.8 per cent and for the Paisley canal line it is 97 per cent.

Overall performance for the past year is sitting at 89.8 per cent, which is better than the figure that we inherited in 2007 despite the network being far busier, with a 33 per cent increase in passengers and an additional 130 services running daily. That performance is higher than the Great Britain average of 87 per cent. However, let me be clear that, when performance is measured across the network as a whole, it is not where I want it to be. At the same time, I know that increases in passenger numbers and pressure on services mean that the experience for many passengers is not what they want it to be either.

To respond to those concerns, on 23 August I instructed ScotRail to develop a performance improvement plan and to deliver improvements to the customer experience. That plan was published on 20 October, and the Office of Rail and Road, which is the independent regulator, has confirmed that it is robust and challenging but deliverable. There are some 250 individual actions in the plan and work is well under way to deliver them.

Passengers want to see action now to strengthen the reliability of the rail infrastructure across the network, and I can announce that £16 million of investment is being been brought forward—over and above what we have already planned—to upgrade key junctions, track and signalling equipment.

This week, for example, action is taking place to renew points at Cowlairs, improve circuits in Dunblane and improve the reliability of the class 334 fleet that serves North Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire and West Lothian.

Action is taking place to fit an improved radiator design, to tackle the cooling issues that have been experienced by services to the Borders, and £14 million is being spent on improving the overall reliability of the ScotRail fleet.

In respect of operations, revised procedures are in place at major stations, to focus on prompt departures and on managing known pinch-points on our network. Commuters tell me that they are tired of skip-stop, so a skip-stop protocol has been introduced, to protect peak-time commuters and reduce the instances of stops being missed.

I know that overcrowding is frustrating for passengers when it happens. I can confirm that we are finalising details to provide more carriages from mid-December on the morning and evening peak-time services on the Borders railway.

At the same time, we will introduce an early morning Perth to Inverness commuter service, which will arrive just after 8 am. A new, direct southbound service will depart Inverness for Edinburgh, arriving in Edinburgh before 9.30 am, or, with a change, in Glasgow at a broadly similar time. The services will increase daily travel opportunities between north and central Scotland.

I know about the work that is required and the service that has to be delivered. I have taken action and a plan is in place. This Government has a track record of delivering for our railways and it is my firm intention that we continue to deliver. In the period to 2019, we are investing £5 billion to transform the railway, with huge increases in the numbers of carriages, seats and services.

Since 2007, 140 extra carriages have been introduced to the ScotRail fleet. An extra 200 carriages will follow in the next 30 months, starting now. That means that there will be 50 per cent more carriages than there were in 2007.

We are investing twice as much per capita in the existing network as the UK Government invests. Our seven cities will be linked by higher-speed trains, with rolling stock that is more in keeping with an intercity experience, providing the latest standard of comfort, accessibility and catering provision, plus 40 per cent more seats.

Seventy new electric trains will be delivered in the central belt next year, to provide commuters with up to 40 per cent more seats at peak times on the main Edinburgh to Glasgow route.

We are not forgetting the existing fleet. Ninety per cent of our current fleet will be totally refurbished to improve performance and reliability, with much better on-board facilities, such as wi-fi, power sockets, new lighting and new seats.

We are also moving with the times and expanding electronic payments for travel. Smart cards can already be used for season ticket journeys across the rail network.

Fare increases are at their lowest level since the devolution of rail in 2005. Increases in peak fares are capped at inflation and a £5 intercity fare has been introduced.

All those initiatives and more are a direct consequence of our passenger-focused franchise specification.

To support the service improvements, we are in the midst of one of the most significant transformations of our railway infrastructure in recent memory. In only four years, we have delivered: the award winning Paisley Canal electrification project, in 2012; the transformation of Haymarket station, in 2013; the electrification of the Glasgow to Cumbernauld line and the Whifflet line in 2014; the opening of the Borders railway last year; and the re-modelling of Queen Street tunnel to prepare for electrification.

Advance works to improve the Aberdeen to Inverness line have started; the redevelopment of Dundee station, in partnership with the local authority, is scheduled for completion during December 2017; there is on-going electrification work on the line between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Falkirk; and advance works have commenced for the rolling programme of electrification on the Shotts line and the line to Stirling.

In addition, Edinburgh Gateway station will shortly open, we have committed funds for stations at Robroyston, East Linton and Reston, and we increased the level of central funding for the new Kintore station.

We are committed to completing those projects—we are not in the position that people are in south of the border, where there have been deferrals and cancellations, and large cost overruns have triggered an aggressive programme of asset sales.

Our investment in infrastructure signals our confidence in Scotland’s railway. It also means that there is a substantial challenge to operate an effective service, introduce new trains and enhance the passenger experience, while making major infrastructure improvements.

Recognising that challenge, we encouraged ScotRail and Network Rail to form an alliance to cement their operational relationship, and we have seen some benefits from that approach, particularly through the effective communication and management of the improvement works at Winchburgh and at the Queen Street tunnel. However, clearly, that alliance could do more. Network Rail is a body whose activities in Scotland are fully funded by the Scottish Government, yet its formal accountability remains to the UK Government. To fully realise the potential of the alliance and enable it to deliver the modern railway that passengers expect, we need further devolution of rail powers and responsibilities. I call on all parties in this chamber to support that objective.

We signed a 10-year contract for the provision of passenger rail services with Abellio, and we set tough targets on behalf of Scotland’s passengers. It is the duty and responsibility of Abellio to fulfil its obligation under the contract. It is my job to hold it to account, and I will personally be closely monitoring Abellio and its progress on the improvement plan until performance returns to acceptable contractual standards.

At the same time, we will act on the additional powers given to the Parliament in the Scotland Act 2016, which removes the prohibition on public sector bodies to bid for future Scottish rail franchises. However, the act does not remove the need for competition. Any public sector bid would need to be tested in competition so that we could pick the best option for Scotland’s passengers in an objective manner. We will use the powers that we have and will follow through our manifesto commitment to take steps to establish a level playing field in franchise competitions.

To take that forward, I have written to trade unions, party transport spokespersons, regional transport partnerships and Transport Focus, inviting all parties to an initial round-table meeting next week at which I will set out our approach and legal powers and the potential options for a public sector operator. These have been testing times—for passengers particularly—but there is a performance improvement plan in place and the concrete actions that I have detailed are being taken here and now. Abellio and the Government are committed to ensuring the success of the ScotRail franchise.

As I have briefly highlighted, there is a broader backdrop with exciting service propositions, more and new rolling stock and significant infrastructure improvements that will benefit our growing number of rail passengers. I am acutely aware that we are about to enter a winter period with all the attendant challenges that that brings. There will be times when winter weather will mean that passengers will face disruption. However, I stress that I am personally determined to achieve the best outcome for passengers. I hope that the chamber will join me in supporting the efforts and actions of the management and staff of ScotRail in delivering the improvement plans and making a resounding success of our franchise—a franchise that I firmly believe delivers for Scotland.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. If he thought that, by making a statement today, he would avoid media scrutiny because of the chancellor’s autumn budget statement, he has been run down by the express train of events. It has been another day of delays, cancellations and disruption, which harm our economy and hurt passengers, and this is from a train service that the minister said yesterday is not bad.

We should be clear about where responsibility lies. It was the Scottish National Party Government that awarded the current franchise to Abellio; it is the SNP Government that sets the fares and decides how much overcrowding there is on the trains; and it is the SNP Government that must start taking responsibility for the state of our railways.

We have heard a lot of promises from the minister, but passengers want to know when we will see improvements. What deadline has he given Abellio for meeting its current contractual obligations, and what exactly will be the consequences of its failing to do so?

We will participate in the minister’s round-table discussions about how we can improve the rail service. However, let us be clear that the idea of a public sector bid has been floated to win over the rail unions, which have called for the minister’s head. Even if such a bid were possible, it would be 2022 before a public sector organisation could take over the ScotRail franchise. Does the minister understand that passengers want improvements now, not in six years’ time?

Humza Yousaf

I heard Murdo Fraser talking yesterday about a shambles on Scotland’s railways. I completely reject that proposition. Let me put the matter in a regional context. Although ScotRail is not performing to the standard to which I want it to perform, its performance level is 2 per cent higher than the Great Britain average and its passenger satisfaction rate is 7 per cent higher than the GB average.

Yesterday, I saw on the news that ferries were stranded, roads were closed in England and trains were cancelled across the network. If Murdo Fraser describes ScotRail as a shambles, the situation that his Government presides over is surely an omnishambles. I will therefore take no lectures from him.

Murdo Fraser is right to ask what actions the Scottish Government is taking. Passengers and commuters want actions now, and I have detailed some actions. We are accelerating and bringing forward £16 million of spending on our infrastructure, which is on top of the spending that we are already bringing forward. People want action and I have brought forward £14 million of improvements to the reliability of ScotRail’s fleet. They want action on skip-stop, so a protocol has been put in place for skip-stop at peak times. They want action on capacity, so we have introduced—and will continue to introduce—more carriages in our fleet. When passengers want action and—rightly—demand action, they are getting action from this SNP Scottish Government, which I know Murdo Fraser will not like.

Murdo Fraser asked about the public sector bid. This may be novel to him, but it was in our manifesto and we intend to take forward and fulfil the pledge to have a public sector operator putting forward a bid. I heard him talking about renationalisation. It is worth saying that his Tory Government has reclassified Network Rail under the Department for Transport.

I am pleased that Murdo Fraser has accepted the invitation to come to the meeting. As I said in my statement, a public sector bid has to be competitive with a private sector bid as well. There is some merit in a public sector bid in which the profits are reinvested in the railways and I will work for that with the unions, other political parties and transport spokespeople. I welcome the fact that Murdo Fraser will be there and I look forward to what I am sure will be his constructive ideas.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Scottish Labour is happy to meet the minister next week to explain to him the benefits of a people’s ScotRail, but today’s statement was requested in relation to performance here and now. The facts are that the minister demanded an improvement plan, but services have become worse. Staff morale is at rock bottom. His handling of the situation has seen him fall out with Abellio, Network Rail and transport unions. He claimed that he was not a transport expert and he is right.

After today, will the minister ditch the spin and publish his 246-point improvement plan in full? So far, passengers and Parliament have seen only a summary document.

The minister failed to give a guarantee to passengers about when services will get better. Is it still the case that it will be March before targets are hit?

This week, the minister claimed that ScotRail is not a poor service. Passengers who are standing on overcrowded platforms waiting for late-running and overpriced trains would beg to differ. Is it not the case that he is wrong, passengers are right and he is on the wrong side of Scotland’s passengers?

Humza Yousaf

What I have heard from Neil Bibby in the media this week, which he just repeated, is that kind of petty, pathetic and personal attack towards me. I could respond to every attack, but I will not, because passengers and commuters want to know what action we are taking.

When Neil Bibby says that improvement is not being made, he is being disingenuous, because in the past eight weeks improvement has been made—the percentage of services meeting the target has gone from 89.5 to 89.8 per cent. That is not good enough and the figure is not where I want it to be. Neil Bibby shakes his head, but that 89.8 per cent is higher than what was achieved in every single year when Labour was in government. When he says that it is not good enough, I agree. That is why the improvement plan that we want, and the franchise that we have committed to, will have a target of 91.3 per cent.

I want to see regular improvement. I have been honest in saying that disruption can happen. I think that every reasonable commuter—every passenger I have spoken to—understands that winter weather, for example, probably will affect certain services at certain points, but I want the communication to be better, including to passengers, and I want improvements to be made.

Neil Bibby said that action is demanded and I agree that it is demanded. That is why I have highlighted investment of £16 million in the infrastructure and £14 million in the fleet, and the skip-stop protocols that are in place. I also mentioned that fare increases are at their lowest level anywhere on these islands and at their lowest since we took over those powers in 2005.

If Neil Bibby wants to carp from the sidelines and make pathetic, personal and petty attacks on me, that is fine—I will leave him to do that. I will stand up for the commuters and the passengers in this country, day in and day out.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I welcome the potential option of a future public sector bid, but my constituents—particularly those who use the Maryhill train line—are more concerned about service improvements over a much shorter period. I met Abellio ScotRail to ask it to meet impacted commuters in my constituency and listen to their concerns, with a view to a local improvement plan being put in place, and it agreed to do so.

I ask the minister to take a personal interest in that improvement plan for a train line that has suffered more than most. Does he agree that it is vital that Abellio has such local engagement to help it to drive change?

Humza Yousaf

I agree with all of that. I take a personal interest in performance across all routes. I speak to ScotRail daily—I do so early in the morning and Transport Scotland follows that up in the evening peak to make sure that services are running to the standards that we expect. I take a personal interest in performance, including performance on the Maryhill line, to ensure that ScotRail delivers on its performance improvement plan.

I am pleased that ScotRail has had positive engagement with the member. I will take that up with ScotRail when I next speak to it to make sure that that local engagement continues. I am pleased to hear that Bob Doris is having a positive experience. That message goes out to all members because, in representing their constituents, they will see where improvements can be made. I have spoken to many members who have had constructive relationships with ScotRail, which I want to continue. If there are ever any blockages in getting to ScotRail’s senior management, I will be more than happy to take that up with the company, because local engagement is vital.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. If he is receiving twice-daily updates from ScotRail, it is no wonder that he has a glum demeanour.

Having an effective and efficient rail network is key to meeting our climate change targets. That is why it is deeply concerning that ScotRail’s performance improvement plan identifies 250 individual actions. How many of those 250 individual actions must be delivered for the minister to be satisfied? What will happen if they are not?

Humza Yousaf

I will again leave aside the petty personal attacks that have characterised much of the Opposition’s attack, which show that it does not have much to say by way of substance. Passengers and commuters will not thank the member for taking such an approach.

When it comes to improvements, as I said to Neil Bibby, improvements are already being made. Performance has improved from 89.5 to 89.8 per cent. It is still not where I want it to be, and we will drive that harder where we can. We expect all the actions in the performance improvement plan to be undertaken.

I will speak to ScotRail, as a couple of members have suggested, to establish how many of the 246 actions can be made fully public and how that can be done. ScotRail has told me that it would be willing to meet any member, to take them to the control room in Atrium Court and to talk them through any of those measures.

I have made it very clear to the public and to members that, if performance dips or does not improve, there will be serious consequences, but I have confidence that performance can continue on the right trajectory, notwithstanding the fact that there will be disruptions as a result of weather events, mechanical faults and technical failures—we know that those things can happen. Passengers want a better service, and I instructed the improvement plan’s production. A number of actions will follow, and I will be happy to keep Maurice Golden updated on progress.

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

It is totally unacceptable that too many trains are overcrowded, particularly at peak times. Why does that continue to be the case in a so-called “world leading contract”? Why does Abellio continue to rake in millions of pounds in profits while passengers have to stand during their train journeys?

Humza Yousaf

That is a fair question. Let us take the overcrowding issue. Since 2007, there has been huge passenger growth—the number of passengers has increased by 33 per cent. Since 2007, we have introduced 140 extra carriages. On top of that, I have today announced the provision of an additional 200 carriages up to 2019, starting immediately. Six of the seven additional trains that are being provided on the busiest route—the Glasgow suburban route—are already on route; there is one more to come. I am sure that that will affect Mr Kelly’s constituents. On top of that, we have just announced from mid-December additional carriages coming to the Borders.

I agree with the member that overcrowding is an issue, and tackling it is part of the improvement plan and part of our investment. By the time investment is complete, the 200 additional carriages and 200 additional services that we are introducing, the lower fares and lower fare increases and the additional spending on the infrastructure will, I believe, have led to a much better service for passengers. The member is right that overcrowding is an issue; part of the improvement plan is about tackling it, and I have set out some of the actions for how we intend to do so.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank the minister for early sight of his statement and, indeed, for the invitation to the meeting, which I will be happy to take up. I also acknowledge the good news about the Inverness to Perth commuter services.

Although it is entirely fair to record that delays are inevitable on any service, I think that it is important that the minister has acknowledged the level of dissatisfaction. With performance being so low and the situation—as I think he is aware—being worse on the far north line, it is our view that passengers should automatically receive a form for claiming compensation instead of having to go looking for one. Is he able to ensure that that will be the case? Moreover, can the minister direct a small amount of capital investment at ensuring that facilities for passengers who are waiting for connections are warm, secure and safe?

Humza Yousaf

I thank John Finnie for the constructive tone of his question. On the compensation side of things, he is absolutely right: passengers who do not get the service that they expected get frustrated when they find that they have to go through additional obstacles and hoops in order to get compensation. Recently, my officials instructed ScotRail to review its compensation processes and procedures; I will make sure that the idea of forms being given out automatically when performance does not meet the thresholds and our expectations is fed in to that. Indeed, I am sure that it has already been fed in. I will keep the member updated on that.

On John Finnie’s wider point about below-standard investment in facilities at some stations, he will know about the service quality incentive regime—or SQUIRE—which is by far the toughest auditing regime on these islands. Recently, ScotRail had to pay just under half a million pounds because it had failed to meet expectations for passenger facilities at stations and so on. That fund, which now tops £2 million, is reinvested in ensuring that standards are met. I will ensure that my officials write to the member about the actions that ScotRail has taken. If there are specific stations at which he thinks facilities need to be upgraded, that information can be passed on to ScotRail directly. I will be happy to look at it, too.

As for Mr Finnie’s support for our commitment on a public sector operator putting forward a public sector bid, I look forward to discussing the matter with him next week and to hearing the Greens’ ideas on that.

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

When will the minister stop causing confusion? At the weekend, he said that the service was so poor that he was setting up a public sector operator, but just now, he said that it is not poor after all.

Passengers do not, I am afraid to say, want ministerial flannel. They want to see the plan of action and they want the timetable for improvements to be enforced. The minister has just said in his statement that he published the plan with its 250 actions, but he has done no such thing. That is more confusion from a confused minister. Where is the evidence that the minister has any intention of publishing the full list of 250 actions with their time limits?

Humza Yousaf

That is not what I said. What I said was that a version of the improvement plan was published on 20 October. Mike Rumbles, along with a number of other members, has asked me whether the actions—around 250 of them—can be published. I will speak to ScotRail and get back to him on that. There should be as much accountability and transparency as possible with regard to the actions. Sometimes, however, there will be issues and there will be reasons why that cannot be the case, but I will be fully transparent and open with the member and with passengers and commuters about that.

On the level of service, I have made it clear that it is simply not good enough. If I had thought that it was good enough, I would not have instructed that an improvement plan be put together. I have done that because I believe that the level of service is not good enough. If we look over the eight-week period, we will see that improvements are being made. The demand is that there is improvement on performance below 90.3 per cent in the railway year, which is the trigger for the improvement plan. Of course, 91.3 per cent is the target in the contract. It is a very high target, and one that we expect the operator to deliver.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I understand that this morning there were delays on the Glasgow central station to Partick low-level line because of damage to the overhead wires. Is the minister satisfied with the way in which ScotRail dealt with that?

Humza Yousaf

We are making £60 million of investment on overhead line equipment and Network Rail’s infrastructure. Commuters frequently hear about points and signal failures and failures with overhead line equipment, which is why we are bringing forward that investment.

I said in my statement that lessons have been learned. Last Thursday’s disruption caused huge amounts of disruption for passengers and commuters, and I heard from passengers that one of the most frustrating parts of the disruption was the lack of information that came out. Passengers were not being given information by front-line staff, who feel that information was not communicated to them from the centre.

Lessons have been learned. Let me give some examples. John Mason was right to mention that in the early hours of this morning a railhead treatment train that is operating for the autumn period came into contact with an object that was hanging from overhead line equipment in the vicinity of the Kelvinhaugh tunnel, near Finnieston, which caused damage to the overhead line equipment. After that, ScotRail sent the first text messages to passengers at 5.59 in the morning. That alert was then repeated every 30 minutes and from 7.45 it was repeated every 15 minutes. ScotRail initially updated its website at 11 minutes past 6 this morning. Station announcements were initiated at the beginning of the service and were repeated every 10 minutes. Twenty additional staff were deployed to affected stations across the network. Senior managers were also sent down to Exhibition Centre station and Anderston station to ensure that they could deal with inquiries there.

I am not saying that what happened was perfect. Of course, disruption of any nature causes difficulties for commuters and passengers, so I repeat my apology for the disruption. As the transport minister, I do not want to see such disruption, but sometimes these things happen. I do not think that anybody is seriously suggesting that services should have run. Running a train through wires hanging from an overhead line would have put passengers’ lives at risk.

Lessons have been learned. Things can and should get better, of course, which is why I will continue to hold Abellio to account for that.

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

If the minister accepts that he is struggling in his job to hold Abellio to account, what makes him think that he would be any better if he ran the trains himself? If he is failing as the ticket examiner, why would he be any better as the driver?

Humza Yousaf

Again, that was a pathetic and petty personal attack with no substance whatsoever. However, I must say, Presiding Officer, that it was well read from the script.

On the public sector bid, the Conservatives have said that their transport spokesperson will come. I am very happy to listen to their ideas.

Annie Wells should not be dismissive of open competition. When a private company can compete, why on earth could a public sector company not? We have already had that with CalMac Ferries, which competed with a private operator and runs a good service. Annie Wells might not like that, and she can shake her head at it, but why can a public sector company or an operator that is run by the public sector not compete with a private company? It can. Our manifesto commitment was to get as many people as possible to come together in the big bothy or big tent to inform the discussion. I am delighted that the member will attend, and I look forward to hearing her constructive—I hope—ideas.

Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP)

A Rail Accident Investigation Branch report this month into the closure of the Lamington viaduct between Carstairs and Lockerbie in my region revealed a series of faults by Network Rail that could have led to serious loss of life, had it not been for the actions of a vigilant train driver. The report said that corrosion was identified in 2005 but nothing was done, and the chief inspector expressed serious concern. What power, if any, does the Scottish Government have to hold Network Rail to account for that appalling neglect? How can we be sure that Network Rail has not been similarly negligent in its maintenance of other stretches of track in Scotland?

Humza Yousaf

It is clear that the safety of passengers, staff and the wider public is the number 1 priority for all parties that are involved in Scotland’s railways. I do not think that any of the political parties in the chamber would differ on that.

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch report raised a number of serious questions and concerns about the circumstances that led to closure of the Lamington viaduct last winter. The Scottish Government has a number of devolved responsibilities, but railway safety is a reserved matter, as Joan McAlpine may know. The Office of Rail and Road, which is the independent health and safety regulator, is undertaking a review of the incident. We will look to it to determine whether there has been a breach of health and safety obligations by Network Rail and whether enforcement action is required.

I have a constructive relationship with the railway minister in the UK Government Department for Transport, Paul Maynard. Of course, I will be happy to share any lessons learned and to hear from him how the UK Government might also take forward some of the findings of that review. However let me be clear that the Scottish Government has funded Network Rail to discharge all its safety obligations fully, as determined independently by the ORR. The issues that are identified by the RAIB can in no way be equated to lack of funding from the Scottish Government.

Elaine Smith (Central Scotland) (Lab)

The minister mentioned the signing of the 10-year contract with Abellio in his statement, and talks about pursuing a public sector bid. Can he confirm—as was outlined in my motion of October 2014 and confirmed by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—that the Government could have delayed the contract award until the new powers were devolved and a public sector bid would be permitted? He also mentioned Whifflet, where 53 per cent of trains arrive late. Can he now tell us exactly how much longer people will have to put up with late, overpriced, overcrowded and cancelled trains before the Government steps in to establish a public operator of last resort?

Humza Yousaf

I will make a point to Elaine Smith about attacking Abellio. I agree with her that its performance has not been up to scratch, but the Labour Party, when it was the UK Government, also appointed Abellio to a franchise. I remind the member that this Government introduced legislation that allows public sector operators to bid, after inaction by her party’s Government for a number of years.

I have seen a question by Kenny MacAskill to Lewis Macdonald on that very question from 2002, in which Lewis Macdonald said that he was having discussions with the UK Government, which clearly did not materialise into powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. It should be acknowledged that the SNP introduced the powers to allow public sector operators to make a public sector contract bids. Clearly, a lot of work has to go into that, which is why I am calling for political party transport spokespersons, rail transport providers and unions to come around the table to inform that discussion. I very much look forward to hearing Elaine Smith’s constructive views. We are committed to a public sector bid, and the SNP is the party that brought forward the legislation that allows that to happen.

The Presiding Officer

I thank members. That brings to an end—

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

On a point of order.

Presiding Officer, I seek your guidance. The minister read out his statement, and I have a copy of it here. He said:

“I instructed ScotRail on 23 August to develop a performance improvement plan ... That plan was published on 20 October ... There are some 250 individual actions in the plan.”

I have been unable to locate those 250 actions: they have not been published in the public domain. More importantly, the Scottish Parliament information centre—if members would like to listen to this, they might find the information helpful—does not have the information. [Interruption.] This certainly is a point of order. I seek your guidance as to whether SPICe could make that information available.

The Presiding Officer

I thank Mike Rumbles for that point of order. It was the same as the question that he asked the minister, and to which the minister replied. The member is at liberty to ask further questions of the minister, to write to him or to make inquiries of SPICe seeking the information he requests. However, it is not a point of order for me to rule on.

Elaine Smith

On a point of order.

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether you could advise on whether there is anything in the standing orders about replying to questions. I laid questions to the Government at the beginning of the month, some of which were addressed in the statement. Today is the last day for replies to my questions, and they had not yet been replied to before I came to the chamber. Can you give guidance on when members of this Parliament should expect replies to their questions?

The Presiding Officer

I thank Elaine Smith for her question. There are laid-down timescales that offer guidance to members, of which the member should be aware. I expect the Government to respond within those timescales. The member is free to ask questions of the minister if timescales are not adhered to.

We have gone well over time and have eaten into a debate that I know is of great interest to members. We will take a few minutes to change seats then move on with the debate.