Bus group boss slams call for Government to foot bill of SPT bus franchising

Left to right: Sandy Easdale (McGill's CEO), Ralph Roberts and James Easdale

Central government should not be left to pick up the multi-million pound bill for bus franchising so that councillors can avoid making tough decisions over car congestion, a bus sector leader said today.

CEO of McGill’s Group, Ralph Roberts, makes the comments in response to a call from Malcolm Mitchell, SNP councillor for SNP Garscadden/Scotstounhill, for the Scottish and UK Governments to fund SPT’s bus franchising plans. The comments were reported in the Glasgow Times.

Ralph Roberts, CEO of McGill’s Group, said:

“In our discussions with the then Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, when the Transport Act that permitted franchising was being formed, he was very clear that if local authorities want to use these powers, they would have to find the money in their own budgets and central government would not be footing the bill.

“He was also very clear that there would need to be a significant improvement in services as a result or it would not be allowed. If that rule was in place in England, the Bee Network in Manchester wouldn’t have happened as the improvements have been marginal at best.

“Of course, everyone wants better buses, no one more so than bus operators.

“The first step is to fix the roads and give buses more road space. Clearing the main arteries of parking is the easiest and cheapest way to do this – it costs only paint so what is the delay? That is the dilemma for councillors: doing it correctly – and cheaply – will upset car owners. So, they want someone else to foot the bill to do it expensively and very inefficiently.

“Cllr Mitchell’s plea for funding from central government is essentially a call to run up a huge bill so councillors don’t have to make difficult decisions that will prove unpopular with motorists.

“Car users of Glasgow, who are unhappy with evening parking charges, will just end up footing this bill in a different way to pay for these plans.

“Meanwhile, anyone who is even remotely involved in public transport knows that privatisation (deregulation) of the buses slowed down the footfall decline – and that the 1986 Act actually worked – something we would urge Cllr Mitchell to take note of.

“What didn’t work was that local authorities then generally washed their hands of bus responsibility and were mostly unwilling to help buses – take note again, Cllr Mitchell. In doing so, they forgot that their constituents – their taxpayers – were on those buses and were reliant on them.

“The next time voters hear Glasgow City Council say that they want “a world-class bus network”, please tell them to firstly put world-class roads and public transport infrastructure into place. Fixing congestion works. Cities which are actually run as “world-class” destinations have proved this. It reduces bus operating costs and those savings can be ploughed into more services and lower fares.  Bus companies are even willing to allow councils to be part of the process of bus network design and setting fares. The caveat here is that they would need to do their job and couldn’t spend any more than is available – something which clearly isn’t attractive enough for politicians.

“When McGill’s Group fight these plans, we are not only preventing the business that we have built, at great cost, being handed to a foreign multi-national for free, we are also trying to save the taxpayer from unnecessary expense. To other business owners in Glasgow; today they are coming for us, tomorrow it may be your business that is taken away.”

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