26 November 2009

(S3O-8555) Public Transport (Scottish Borders)

8. John Lamont (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what it is doing to support public transport in the Scottish Borders. (S3O-8555)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The Scottish Government encourages all local authorities to promote public transport. Scottish Government funding for bus services across Scotland is considerable. This year, that included more than £63 million for bus service operators grant and £182 million for concessionary travel. We are also providing record levels of funding to local authorities. The latest figures show that councils spent some £51 million supporting local bus services in 2007-08. That substantial outlay is intended to help the industry to drive down fare costs and to deliver other benefits.

We are also committed to developing rail services, including the £235 million to £295 million Borders rail project, which will improve public transport provision for a range of communities.

John Lamont: As we have already heard, in my constituency in the Scottish Borders dozens of local bus routes will be lost to remote and rural communities unless financial support continues to be provided to the bus companies concerned. Although the minister says that considerable funding is available, the council has made it clear that it does not receive sufficient funding from the Scottish Government to help support the services in question. Does the minister acknowledge the importance of those routes? What support, in addition to that which he has already outlined, will he provide to Scottish Borders Council?

Stewart Stevenson: The Scottish Borders Council, like councils across Scotland, has seen an above-inflation increase in funding; across Scotland, the average increase is 2.9 per cent. We are providing the funds for councils to support bus services across Scotland. It is their responsibility to do so, and they are best placed to understand local needs and to provide a local response.

Jeremy Purvis (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): Given that we are talking about a Borders community, there is a clear comparison between the fragile nature of the sustainability of the services in rural parts of the Scottish Borders and the situation immediately south of the border in England. Can the minister confirm that the pence-per-mile support that the Scottish Government provides for such services is identical to the level of support that is received by local authorities immediately south of the border?

Stewart Stevenson: The key fact that I draw the member's attention to is that, per capita, the average support that is given to bus services in Scotland is substantially higher than the average support that is given to bus services in England. I think that we give terrific support to Scottish bus services.

(S3O-8605) Bus Services

6. Karen Whitefield (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what steps it is taking to maintain and improve bus services in the light of recent decisions by bus companies to withdraw commercial services from many communities. (S3O-8605)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The Scottish Government is committed to promoting the use of bus services in Scotland. We are taking forward a number of initiatives with local government partners and bus operators to maintain and improve bus services.

Karen Whitefield: I am grateful to the minister for the Government's commitment to bus services in Scotland. Is he aware that a recent package of bus service cuts by a major commercial bus operator in the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport area resulted in the need for a subsidy to maintain minimum socially necessary services that was equivalent to 6 per cent of SPT's annual subsidy budget? What steps will the Scottish Government take to ensure that bus services are maintained? Specifically, what assistance can the minister give to Strathclyde Partnership for Transport?

Stewart Stevenson: Despite the £500 million cut in the funding available to Scotland—which, as the cabinet secretary said in his statement this morning, would have meant a £170 million cut for local authorities—funding for local authorities will rise by 2.9 per cent compared with last year. It is of course for local authorities to determine how they spend their money, but in the light of that significant increase and the higher proportion of the Scottish Government's overall budget that is now available to them, I hope that local authorities will take the appropriate action.

Christine Grahame (South of Scotland) (SNP): Is the minister aware that some bus operators are cutting services in the Borders and Penicuik because of loss of revenue due to the Edinburgh tram works? Does he share my concern that Borders buses are excluded from Edinburgh bus station on the same basis, with the result that passengers and drivers are literally left out in the cold at Waterloo Place, where they lack security and facilities? Does he agree that that should not continue?

Stewart Stevenson: I was not aware until now that such bus services are excluded from Edinburgh bus station. I plan to meet the leader of City of Edinburgh Council in the very near future to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest. I will also seek to raise that issue at that time.

Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill) (Lab): In view of the apparent inability of commercial operators to provide stable bus networks in my constituency—and, given Ms Grahame's question, in regions throughout Scotland—will the Scottish Government consider granting powers to public transport authorities to resume directly operated bus services?

Stewart Stevenson: An interesting power that has not yet been exercised—which Glasgow City Council is pursuing—is statutory bus partnerships. In support of that, we have recently published guidance and advice that will be helpful to authorities that wish to take that route, which is available. The appointment of a senior bus development officer is already making a difference to the capability to support bus services across Scotland. I think that, in the first instance, those two ways forward are likely to deliver early and most useful successes.

(S3O-8647) Public Transport (Forth Estuary)

5. Jim Tolson (Dunfermline West) (LD): To ask the Scottish Executive what work has been carried out by Transport Scotland on its public transport strategy in and around the Forth. (S3O-8647)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The strategic transport projects review recommendations that were announced on 10 December 2008 included a number of interventions relating to public transport enhancements in and around the Forth. Since then, the Scottish Government has engaged with interested stakeholders on the development of a public transport strategy to consider opportunities for taking forward those interventions in support of the Forth replacement crossing.

Jim Tolson:
The minister stated in his letter to me dated 24 September that

"Transport Scotland is currently developing a strategy for public transport in and around the Forth",

which I understand will include looking at the proposed park-and-choose schemes at Halbeath and Rosyth. When will the results of that study be made available?

Stewart Stevenson:
Intervention 8 in the STPR refers to park-and-choose facilities at Halbeath and at Pitreavie near Rosyth. I recently met Councillor Russell Imrie and colleagues from the south east of Scotland transport partnership to discuss a wide range of issues relating to public transport interventions around the Forth replacement crossing. We will continue to work with SEStran and others to ensure that such interventions complement the Forth replacement crossing project, the bill for which was recently published.

(S3O-8627) ScotRail Services (Stranraer)

1. Alasdair Morgan (South of Scotland) (SNP): ... ... ...

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with ScotRail regarding rail services to and from Stranraer. (S3O-8627)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Transport Scotland is part of the Scottish Government and meets regularly with Network Rail and ScotRail in the normal course of business to discuss a range of matters, including development of rail services.

Alasdair Morgan: I am relieved to hear that. The minister will be aware that rail fares to Stranraer are disproportionately more expensive than fares to other stations on the line closer to Glasgow. A 60 per cent increase in mileage compared with the Girvan journey costs more than 100 per cent more in rail fares. Does the minister agree that that very much discourages rail passenger traffic to Stranraer? Will he undertake to raise those issues with Transport Scotland and ScotRail the next time he meets them?

Stewart Stevenson: It is the case, of course, that there are different rail fares and different rates per track kilometre across Scotland. Some of the differences are sufficiently large to merit further investigation. Some 58,000 people travel to Stranraer each year, particularly to connect with ferry services. The service is therefore an integral part of our overall transport infrastructure. I will certainly pursue that with the rail company and Transport Scotland.

19 November 2009

(S3O-8498) Waverley Line

5. Rhona Brankin (Midlothian) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will update the Parliament on progress on the reopening of the Waverley railway line. (S3O-8498)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Construction will commence in 2010 with the first of the ancillary works, and we expect that a contract for the construction of the railway work will be delivered in autumn 2011. This Administration is committed to delivering a railway service to Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, and commencing the ancillary works will commit the Scottish Government to

"construct the whole of the railway"

under the terms of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006.

Rhona Brankin: Perhaps the minister should be more cautious about how he answers in future. He should possibly answer with greater care, to quote what he said earlier.

The answer finally confirms that the SNP Government has ditched its commitment, by saying that it is going to sign the contract by 2011. Is that not a slap in the face to my constituents in Gorebridge, Newtongrange, Eskbank and Shawfair, who want the same benefits of a passenger rail service as other communities in Scotland enjoy? The minister's answer is a clear change from what has been said in the past about when the contract will be signed.

Stewart Stevenson: The member is correct: there has been a change. I hope that she welcomes it, as people in the Borders and in her constituency undoubtedly will do. Our drawing forward of capital spending has enabled us to make a start to the project earlier than was previously announced. Our transport ambitions for Glasgow, for the Borders, for the north of Scotland and for roads in the Aberdeen area show that the Government is delivering throughout Scotland. That includes improvements to the railways to Inverness and Aberdeen, and terrific improvements throughout.

The only threat to the programmes would be the diversion of money from another scheme in Scotland back to the Glasgow airport rail link. I invite members on the Labour benches to consider that carefully.

(S3O-8496) Concessionary Travel

4. Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive whether it remains committed to the provision of concessionary travel. (S3O-8496)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Yes. We remain committed to the provision of concessionary travel through the Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people and the national concessionary travel scheme for young people.

Claire Baker: Is the minister aware of concerns in Fife that the SNP-led Fife Council is to end the flat rate concessionary rail ticket, which is a policy that brings clear health and wellbeing benefits to our more vulnerable constituents? Will he join me and my Labour colleagues in condemning the move? Will he intervene to ensure that a key benefit that is enjoyed by people throughout the region is not taken away?

Stewart Stevenson: Everyone is free to respond to the consultation that Fife Council is undertaking. The matter is of course one for the council, which, like councils throughout Scotland, has seen an increased share of the overall public funding that is provided by central Government. It is also important to bear it in mind that, by continuing to support the scheme for older and disabled people and extending it to disabled ex-servicepeople, we are showing substantial support for social travel and travel for people throughout Scotland.

Liam McArthur (Orkney) (LD): Does the minister recognise the disappointment in my constituency at the Government's decision not to include either community transport or ferries in the concessionary travel scheme? Will he acknowledge that, for many of my constituents, ferries perform the same role that buses perform in Fife and elsewhere in mainland Scotland?

Stewart Stevenson:
The member will be aware that free ferry journeys are already provided to island dwellers. Of course, it is the local councils in the northern isles, including the council in the member's constituency, that are responsible for the internal ferry services and, if they wish to offer concessions to the inhabitants of the Orkney islands, they are free to do so.

(S3O-8502) Car and Van Ownership (Glasgow)

3. Margaret Curran (Glasgow Baillieston) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what percentage of people in Glasgow owns one car or van only. (S3O-8502)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The Scottish household survey estimates that 38.1 per cent of households in the Glasgow City Council area had access to only one car or van in 2007-08.

Margaret Curran: The Scottish household survey also said that 50 per cent of households in the 15 per cent most deprived areas do not have a car, whereas the figure is 25 per cent for the rest of Scotland, so people in Glasgow are particularly reliant on public transport for work and leisure. Is it fair to conclude that the decision to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link project will have a disproportionate effect on disadvantaged people, particularly in the east end of Glasgow? In light of that, does the Scottish Government believe that there is a case to reinstate GARL and that reinstating it would address the transport needs of people in the east end?

Stewart Stevenson: Perhaps the member should read some previous parliamentary answers with greater care. For example, she will discover that, 20 years after the establishment of GARL, according to the figures provided by Strathclyde Passenger Transport in 2006, the difference in car traffic to the airport on the M8 would be a mere 17 cars per peak hour. In addition, no more than 3 per cent of passengers going to Glasgow airport were expected to use the railway system to the airport.

We have decided to make £1 billion of rail investment between Edinburgh and Glasgow, £200 million investment in new rolling stock to the west of Glasgow, complete the Airdrie to Bathgate line and improve services on all the other connections into Glasgow. Aggregate spending in public investment on railways alone is approaching £2 billion, which is in addition to the improvements to the M74 and M80 roads in Glasgow. Members will see other improvements, such as the two additional platforms being put into Glasgow Central station. Glasgow luxuriates in the beneficence of this Government.

12 November 2009

(S3O-8385) Ferry Service (Gourock to Dunoon)

7. Stuart McMillan (West of Scotland) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take following the European Commissioner for Competition's decision concerning the ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon. (S3O-8385)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

We welcome the findings of the European Commission's investigation into Scotland's ferry services. Those conclusions will allow us to secure the future of the Gourock to Dunoon ferry service. I will meet local stakeholders in Dunoon next Monday to explain to them the implications of that decision and to discuss the way forward for the ferry service.

Stuart McMillan: As the minister knows, I have a longstanding interest in shipbuilding; I have raised with him in the past the issue of the age of the vessels on the service between Gourock and Dunoon. The MV Jupiter is 35 years old and the MV Saturn is 31 years old. Will the minister open dialogue with shipbuilders in Scotland to give them the opportunity to tender for any new builds that the route undoubtedly needs?

Stewart Stevenson: We have already asked Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd to investigate the provision of a vessel for any new operator there may be. Under the European Commission's ruling, the new operator would not be required to use that vessel, but by ensuring that an appropriate vessel is available, we hope to have the widest range of interest. I have spoken to the managing director of Ferguson Shipbuilders regarding the previous tender for the Islay vessel. At that time, the yard did not feel able to tender. The only other yard in the United Kingdom that is interested in such vessels is Appledore in the south-west of England. However, I am keen that Scottish companies should have the maximum opportunity to build new vessels for our ferry services.

David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): Does the minister share my view that there is demonstrable public support for an unrestricted passenger and vehicle service between the town centres of Gourock and Dunoon? Can he confirm that Government policy is consistent with European Union regulations, which stipulate that the successful tendering company should provide vessels without frequency restrictions and compatible with the Dunoon linkspan?

Stewart Stevenson:
We intend to go to tender on the basis of an unrestricted service frequency. One of the bonus findings of the European Commission's investigations was that the restrictions are no longer required. We will be able to subsidise only the passenger element of the service. We are seeking to ensure that any vessel that is brought to the route is compatible with the linkspan at Dunoon, which we are anxious to see come into service.

5 November 2009

(S3O-8299) Concessionary Travel Schemes

6. John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive how it is supporting concessionary travel schemes. (S3O-8299)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

The Scottish Government provides free bus travel to everyone over the age of 60 and to eligible disabled people who live in Scotland. We have previously announced that we intend to include Her Majesty's service personnel and veterans under the age of 60 who have been seriously injured in service. The Scottish Government also provides discounted bus and rail travel to young people living in Scotland who are aged 16 to 18.

John Park:
A recent newspaper report suggests that Fife Council is likely to scrap the flat-rate concessionary 50p rail tickets. I am sure that the minister will acknowledge that Fife has been at the forefront of pushing out the boundaries on concessionary travel—it was the first local authority to provide free bus travel for all pensioners. Given the wider health and wellbeing aspects of the policy, will the minister contact Fife Council as a matter of urgency and consider what support can be sourced from the Scottish Government so that the policy can continue?

Stewart Stevenson: We have regular discussions with councils throughout Scotland. The member will be aware that, under this Government, the proportion of the budget that is allocated to councils has risen since the final Labour budget at the end of the previous session of Parliament. It is for local authorities to decide how to spend the money that is available to them, but of course we will continue to have meaningful discussions on supporting people's transport needs in Fife and elsewhere in Scotland.

Ian McKee (Lothians) (SNP): Are there plans to adopt the model of concessionary travel in England, where it applies only to local bus services?

Stewart Stevenson:
One key attribute of the Scottish system is that transport is available throughout the day and right across Scotland. I congratulate my predecessors on introducing such a scheme. We share the commitment to the scheme and we have extended it. We certainly do not intend to copy what happens south of the border.

(S3O-8343) Rail Services (Ayrshire)

3. John Scott (Ayr) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive what recent discussions it has had with Transport Scotland, Network Rail and train operating companies about the development of rail services in Ayrshire. (S3O-8343)

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

Transport Scotland, on behalf of the Scottish ministers, regularly meets Network Rail and ScotRail in the normal course of business to discuss a range of matters including the development of rail services.

John Scott:
As the minister knows, the Ayr to Glasgow line is one of the busiest rail routes in Scotland. Despite that, it is not possible to purchase a flexipass on the route, even though such an option would greatly benefit the large number of my constituents from Ayr, Prestwick and Troon who commute regularly by rail. Will the minister encourage the relevant rail authorities to put in place the necessary measures, including improved revenue protection procedures, to ensure that flexipasses can be introduced on the Ayr to Glasgow rail route?

Stewart Stevenson: The member makes an important point. He will be aware of the order for class 380 trains, which will form an important part of the development of services to the west of Glasgow. The introduction of those trains, which will be the most modern in Scotland, will increase capacity, increase speed and substantially increase comfort.

I am entirely comfortable with engaging with First ScotRail on the subject of the flexipass. Revenue protection is important to the operation of our railway, and the ScotRail franchise is the only one on the Great Britain network that mandates that every train must have a second person whose responsibilities largely revolve around that matter.

Charlie Gordon (Glasgow Cathcart) (Lab): Will the minister consider developing direct rail services between Ayrshire and destinations beyond Glasgow, such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen?

Stewart Stevenson: I welcome Mr Gordon to his position as my opposite number on the Labour benches. As he knows, we are both rail enthusiasts so, naturally, I will within the constraints of the funding available to me take every opportunity to develop services wherever significant demand exists in Scotland.

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