Jenny Gilruth (left) has been told golf and football festivals will be hit by the impact of ScotRail’s temporary timetable and alternative transport. And workers too, of course.
By Bill Heaney
Tory MSP Tess White put a word in for sports fans: “What discussions [has the government] had with the sports and events sectors regarding alternative transport arrangements in light of the revised ScotRail train timetable?”
The Minister for Transport, Jenny Gilruth, waffled: “Discussions with sectors across a range of portfolios, including sport and events, have been taking place in relation to the impact of ScotRail’s temporary timetable and alternative transport.
“For example, culture officials joined the event industry advisory group’s meeting on 20 May, at which I understand the group discussed the impacts on the events sector. The EIAG’s members include those from cultural, sporting and business events.
“Although we want the temporary timetable to be in place for as short a period as possible, engagement is on-going, as required, with those organising individual events. Many attendees will already have plans to make use of Scotland’s extensive bus services on key routes.”
But Tess White pressed on: “The world cup qualifier on 1 June is one of the biggest games in 20 years, with more than 50,000 people flocking to Hampden. Considering the last-minute changes on the day that 700 services were axed, can the minister give fans the assurances that they need that extra capacity will be provided to get them home from Hampden and that that capacity will not fall foul of more unplanned cancellations?”
Ms Gilruth blamed the train drivers and their union. She said: “First of all, it is important to remember why the dispute is happening. ScotRail has taken the decision to put in place a temporary timetable, which has been made necessary by the decision of train drivers, as part of a pay dispute, not to take up the option of Sunday and rest-day working.
“That decision is in train drivers’ gift; rest-day working is entirely voluntary. That has been a feature of British railways for many years; it entirely predates nationalisation last month.
“However, it is true to say that Scotland, like many other parts of Great Britain’s rail network, relies on rest-day working to allow the network to function.
“Over the past few weeks, the network has, of course, not been functioning. We have had mass cancellations. For example, on Sunday—the last day of the old timetable—there were more than 300 cancellations.
“I understand the concerns of supporters who are planning to attend the Scotland match against Ukraine on 1 June, which is just over a week away. Of course, that is Scotland’s most important game in a long time, and we want to ensure that supporters can get both to and from the match on public transport, including by using, where possible, our bus services across Scotland.
“I note that, before the reduced timetable was introduced, the last train from Glasgow to Aberdeen would have been at 21:40, so it still would not have returned people home to Aberdeen after the match.
“ScotRail is aware of the various large cultural and sporting events across the summer and it is currently reflecting on how it will address the impact that the reduced timetable might have on those events.
“Last Friday, I asked ScotRail for an update specifically on the Scotland-Ukraine match, and it has assured me that plans are in place and that it will publicise details of those in due course, as it does with all major events.
“I will meet ScotRail to seek an update on that work, and more broadly on the negotiations, as it is due to meet with the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen this afternoon.”
However, it would not just be football fans who would feel the brunt of these cuts in service. Tess White said: “The night-time economy and the cultural sector are already on their knees as a result of the pandemic. The Night Time Industries Association has described the cuts to rail services as “devastating” and has said that
“Scotland’s economic recovery and the future of many thousands of small businesses and jobs are at risk as a result of the rail service being cut to the bone.
“Last week, Douglas Ross asked the First Minister what compensation will be made available to businesses that are affected by the cuts. The First Minister did not answer. Can the minister provide a response now?”
If Ms Gilruth was being sympathetic then she didn’t show it. She said: “Ministers are of course very aware of the impact of the pandemic on the night-time sector and the wider hospitality sector, and on Scotland’s cultural sector.
“As a former culture minister, I know just how challenging the pandemic and the restrictions have been for our theatres and cultural venues. Undoubtedly, it has been the most challenging time for the industry in living memory.
“We are also of course aware of the emerging pressures from the cost of living crisis, which are due to the cost of doing business and to the consequences of reduced household incomes for things such as leisure spending.
“ScotRail will keep the timetable under review. With regards to the member’s question, it is absolutely essential that we now get a resolution to allow for the restoration of the timetable so that services can go back to normal for passengers and staff alike. I will seek an urgent update from ScotRail on the meeting with ASLEF that is taking place later this afternoon.”
Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson Neil Bibby protested: “The current ScotRail crisis is causing misery for many people every day, but especially for those who do not work regular hours. One of my constituents is a national health service nurse who finishes her 12-hour hospital shift at 7.45 pm.
“Her last train home is now at 8.04 pm, but she will miss it because she has less than 20 minutes to get changed and jog down to the station. There is no bus service and no rail replacement bus. How does the minister suggest that my constituent, and countless others like her, get home?”
The Minister told him: “We absolutely do not want the current scenario to go on for any longer than it has already gone on for. The new timetable started just yesterday, and we saw a reduction of cancellations on the network.
“On Sunday, we had more than 300 cancellations, which was not sustainable, so we had to get to a better scenario for the delivery of services. ScotRail has put in place a temporary timetable as a result of drivers refusing to work on their rest days. I am absolutely committed to working with ScotRail and ASLEF to get a resolution for Mr Bibby’s constituent and for the thousands of other passengers who have been inconvenienced by the dispute.”
LibDem Willie Rennie said: “The minister has to accept that this has been an utter failure of industrial relations on the part of the Government.
“Organisers of July’s 150th Open golf championship in St Andrews are banking on more rail services being available for the almost 300,000 people who will descend on the town for that world showcase.
“Does the minister not understand the humiliation that will be imposed on Scotland if she does not get the rail strike sorted by then? If it is not, what plans does she have for ensuring that the roads will not be gridlocked by those 300,000 people?”
Jenny Gilruth told him: “Many moons ago, when I was a teenager growing up in St Andrews, I worked at the Open, so I very much recognise its importance to the local economy of St Andrews.
“A meeting of the silver command group for the Open, on which the Scottish Government’s major events team is represented, is taking place today. It is expected that the traffic and transport group, on which Transport Scotland is represented, will be formally tasked with investigating the impact further and looking at the contingencies that Mr Rennie spoke of.
“I hope that that will reassure him that plans are being put in place. However, I point out that the Open is quite a wee bit away yet. I hope that we will be able to reach a resolution with the trade unions before then, and I am committed to working with them to deliver that in conjunction with ScotRail.”