East Lothian SNP Councillors’ promises of a council run bus company are "in chaos" according to County MSP Iain Gray after the SNP Transport Minister refused to commit the government to financial support or changes in the law.
The County’s bus crisis caused by Firstbus slashing services was the main issue in a debate on bus services brought to the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSPs last Thursday.
The SNP in East Lothian have promised to set up a council bus company to run services, but two days before the debate, SNP Minister Keith Brown went on BBC Radio to say, "councils aren’t allowed to run buses. The law prevents them from doing that." Asked if he could change that he replied, "No, eh, unfortunately that’s not one of the powers the Scottish government has." Mr Brown also stated that "I don’t think anybody is supporting the position of councils running the buses."
Speaking after the debate in parliament, Iain Gray said:
"I like the idea of a council run bus company. But the SNP are in chaos over this. In East Lothian they say they will do it. But their own SNP transport Minister says it is not legal. East Lothian SNP says the minister supports them and will provide money and change the law. Then in parliament the Minister refuses to change the law, and rules out any additional funding for buses.
"In the middle of this SNP shambles East Lothian residents in Pencaitland, Ormiston, Gifford, Elphinstone and Whitecraig do not know who, if anyone, will be providing them with a bus service a couple of months from now. They have been consistently let down by the SNP on buses, and nothing has changed.
"No wonder so many people suspect that this council bus company idea is just a hollow promise to get the SNP through the election."
Iain Gray continued:
"You cannot trust the SNP on buses. First have made clear that one of the reasons they pulled out of these routes is that the SNP government cut the Bus Operators Grant. In East Lothian, the SNP cut the bus subsidy by £200,000 last year. Now they are going to ride in on a white horse and save services.
"I had to laugh when the Minister said in parliament that the council were looking at running services in conjunction with school transport. These are the SNP councillors who told our children to "get on their bike" when they cut school transport. Voters just cannot trust the SNP when it comes to buses, especially at election time."
Commenting on the Minister’s performance in the bus debate, Iain Gray said:
"I was shocked that the SNP minister spent his speech reading passages from "Private Eye" and attacking Labour for decisions about buses in Wales. He obviously thought he was being clever, but he treated my constituents who face the loss of their buses with arrogant contempt. When he did talk about East Lothian it was to say, "the East Lothian proposal is a matter for East Lothian", washing his hands of our bus crisis. No money for buses was on offer to help.
The SNP must think people are daft, if they believe they can get away with saying one thing in East Lothian and something else in Parliament.
"The truth is that to run an arms length bus company, under the Transport Act 1985 the council would have to convince the Traffic Commissioners that they had enough buses, drivers, ticket machines etc to run the services. Since a single bus costs over £200,000 the set up costs are significant. The SNP government have made clear they will not pay, so SNP council candidates have to explain where the hundreds of thousands of pounds required would come from.
The fact is that East Lothian already has a stake in a council owned bus company, called Lothian Buses. We should be making every effort to try and get them to extend operations into East Lothian communities, as well as mobilising small local bus operators. That is the quickest way to secure services."
Prior to the parliamentary debate, Iain Gray met with UNITE representatives from Musselburgh and Dalkeith bus Depots, now facing redundancy. Iain Gray said, "My heart goes out to the workforce and their families. This will be a terrible time for them. I could not believe it when Musselburgh workers told me that they have to walk past an SNP campaign office to get to work, with claims in the window that the SNP are "securing local bus services". For bus drivers staring a p45 in the face, that is a sick joke."