Stagecoach rep lobbied transport minister against public ownership

Lobbying records from Stagecoach reveal that they met with Humza Yousaf on the 22nd of March this year as part of a roundtable on transport in which they lobbied the transport minister over the upcoming Transport Bill, which commuters and unions hope will devolve the ability to run bus companies to councils.

 

Robert Andrew, Stagecoach Managing Director of Buses in Scotland, who was present at the meeting in his role as Chair of Confederation of Passenger Transport Scotland, emphasised that the ‘Lothian model’ is a ‘one-off’ in terms of a municipal operator being successful. They also discussed the need to ‘educate’ local and national politicians on finances in the bus industry. Stagecoach operate bus services throughout Scotland, as well as owning the majority stake in the recently collapsed franchise of East Coast Mainline. The owner of Stagecoach, Brian Souter, is also a major donor to the SNP, having given at least £1 million pounds to the party. It was suggested in 2007 that this may have been the reason the SNP dropped regulating buses from their manifesto.

The implication is that politicians don’t understand the issues of bus finance, which makes them more likely to support municipal buses. But it seems more likely that they do understand it, and they don’t like what they see. Far from being a one off, Lothian Buses prove how successful municipal ownership can be. They have consistently been ranked first in levels of customer satisfaction, not just in Scotland but across the UK.

In addition this, there’s also London - where buses are not only 100 per cent publicly owned, but integrated into the wider transport system through Transport for London (TfL). On the continent, public ownership of buses is the norm, not the exception. Obviously this isn’t the story Stagecoach wants us to hear.

People in Scotland deserve to know whether these complaints have succeeded in blocking the government from devolving new power over municipally owned buses. In a recent poll conducted for the Red Robin, Scots backed municipal ownership of the buses, with 60 per cent in favour and just 12 per cent opposed.

Private ownership has not only led to routes being cut over profitability, it has also damaged employee morale. First Bus drivers in Aberdeen were forced into weeks of industrial action because of punitive conditions enforced by the company, including cutting holiday and sick pay.

It was recently reported that dissatisfaction with buses in Scotland is sky high. The transport bill is an opportunity to put the power back in the hands of communities. Let’s not forget that only weeks ago Humza Yousaf declared that he had ‘no preference’ for public ownership, even as the East Coast Mainline was collapsing around him. The minister needs to make it clear that lobbying from big business will not come before doing what is right.

Responding to the news, Scottish Labour's Transport spokesperson Colin Smyth MSP said: 

“This revelation once again shows just how enthralled the SNP and Transport Minister Humza Yousaf are to big business and privatisation. 

"We already know that Humza Yousaf is indifferent about public ownership of our railways, but it is becoming increasing clear that he doesn't care about our buses either. 

"Rather than putting passengers first, Humza Yousaf has instead chosen to glad-hand big business in an attempt to undermine the case for municipal ownership. 

"Humza Yousaf’s close links with big private bus companies has already led to him ruling out full re-regulation of our buses - but it is also becoming clear that in the forthcoming Transport Bill he will just pay lip service to municipal bus ownership and do very little to expand it or allow new municipal bus companies to compete with the big private bus firms.

"Scottish Labour is the only party that will put passengers before profit and ensure there is a major expansion of municipal ownership of bus companies."
Unite was similarly scathing, Pat Rafferty Unite Scottish Secretary said: 

“It is no surprise that the bus owners group, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, are wholly against public ownership of bus services in Scotland. It is the case that billions of public pounds have flowed into private hands following the flawed and discredited sale of our public assets. The Chair of the CPT in Scotland has claimed that local and national politicians require to be educated on the finances of the bus industry.

"For thousands of passengers across Scotland the sums are quite easy. Public transport in private hands equals higher fares, less bus journeys and whole communities isolated or with severely restricted access to public transport.

"For the record in 2015/16 bus operators received 45% of their income from the public purse in the shape of subsides or grants. Since 2006/7 £2.6 billion of our money has been handed over to private bus companies, this at a time when Scotland leads the way in falling passenger numbers and bus journeys.

"Workers in the industry are part of the race to the bottom as seen recently when First Aberdeen served notice that they intended to cull our members’ terms and conditions at work. Not to provide a better service through increasing the number of journeys or providing higher quality buses, but to retain their already massive profit levels. Profit before people. Unite the Union is clear, in order to provide a modern integrated transport system that serves all of the people of Scotland all of the time public money needs to be invested in public bus services and for profits to be reinvested in the industry to improve choice, quality and standards.”

When approached for comment, a spokesperson for Stagecoach said:

"As you know, since 12 March, face-to-face contact involving MSPs, members of the Scottish Government, Junior Scottish Ministers and certain other parties is required to be recorded in the Scottish Lobbying Register.

In this case, the entry relates to a meeting of the Scottish Government's Bus Stakeholder Group on 22 March 2018.

Robert Andrew, Managing Director - Scotland, Stagecoach UK Bus attended the meeting in his capacity as Chair of the Confederation of Passenger Transport Scotland."

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said:

 “The Transport (Scotland) Bill, which will be introduced before the Parliamentary recess, is informed by a substantial process of public engagement and consultation. Many operators have also had the opportunity to share their views, through forums such as the Bus Stakeholder Group. From the outset, the Transport Minister has made clear that passengers are at the heart of the proposals within upcoming Transport Bill, and has met with local authorities and groups representing passengers across the country.

“We are committed to supporting services and tackling the historic decline in bus passenger numbers. The forthcoming Transport Bill aims to give local authorities the flexibility to pursue partnership working, local franchising, or running their own buses in certain circumstances, allowing local authorities to better respond to local needs. We are also looking to improve the information available to passengers so that bus travel is more accessible and attractive.”

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