East Lothian Constituency Labour Party sent a large delegation of 18 to this year’s Scottish Labour Party Conference in Inverness. The local party also hosted a conference fringe meeting on Iain Gray MSP’s Private Members Bill on the regulation of the bus industry.
County MSP Mr Gray was the keynote speaker at the meeting. He outlined the reasons behind his decision to bring forward the legislation and the key aspects of the Bill, which it is proposed will give local authorities the power to “bundle” profitable and loss making (but socially desirable) routes together, to be tendered in a “quality contract” or franchise.
He told the meeting that the new contracts would include a framework to specify routes, timetables, fares and vehicle quality, while also allowing the performance of bus companies to be more directly monitored. He also talked about the impact of last year’s local bus crisis in Mid and East Lothian, when First withdrew several vital local services at very short notice and the impact this had on his thinking.
Mr Gray was joined by Richard Baker MSP, the Scottish Labour Party’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, and Dougie Maguire, the Lead Officer for the Passenger Transport Sector for Unite the Union, which also sponsored the meeting.
Mr Baker paid tribute to Iain for taking up the huge challenge of trying to tackle the many problems facing the bus industry and pledged the party’s full support for the legislation. Mr Maguire said that his union was also fully behind the Bill, which he believed would bring improvements for both the travelling public as well as the staff who work in the industry.
Audience members from across Scotland asked a variety of questions about the legislation including what opportunities there may be for improving the co-ordination of bus and rail timetables, the dearth of competition in the industry in many parts of the country and the lack of investment in new vehicles, despite the fact that Scotland boasts a leading bus and coach manufacturer in Alexander Dennis Ltd in Falkirk.
Iain Gray MSP said:
“I am grateful to the East Lothian Labour Party for hosting the conference fringe meeting on my Bill. I welcomed the opportunity to talk about it in more detail and outline some of the improvements it can bring about for bus users.
“There was a strong sense at the meeting that communities in many parts of Scotland are currently being short-changed and ill-served by the industry, while the SNP Scottish Government simply ignores the problem.
“We know that East Lothian has been one of the hardest hit areas, which was why I decided to take forward the Bill. The deregulated, free market in bus services has not served my constituents well, delivering expensive and unreliable services in many parts of the county.
“There is a real appetite within the Labour and trade union movement for reforming Scotland’s bus services, which was also evident at the meeting. The support and goodwill displayed at conference has been replicated in other meetings where I have spoken about the Bill.
“I will continue to work with colleagues to make the case for this legislation and its aim of ensuring that bus passengers throughout Scotland can expect a decent, regular, affordable bus service.”
The formal consultation on Mr Gray’s Regulation of Bus Services Bill will begin on Wednesday 1 May.