In our last Labour Party debate, we discussed the impact of Scottish Government policies on bus passengers. Today, we return to two more transport issues that are of crucial importance. In our second debate today, we will focus on support for ferry services, but in this debate, we will discuss the need to provide the rail services that Scotland requires and, specifically, the need to ensure that railway stations that perform a crucial role in their communities are not closed.
We make no apology for returning to transport issues in our debates; after all, an efficient public transport system that serves the travelling public’s needs is crucial not only to service provision but to boosting our economy to ensure that we move on from the current position of flatlining economic growth and rising unemployment towards the creation of a stronger and growing economy for Scotland.
Our motion results from proposals in the “Rail 2014—Public Consultation” document for the new ScotRail franchise. We and many others have expressed serious concerns about a huge number of issues in that document because we want better, not worse, rail services in Scotland, and because the need for progress is clear. More needs to be done to make rail services more punctual, faster and more affordable, and to extend their availability to give commuters more options for boarding the train rather than getting in their cars.
We are not saying that there has been no progress in all those areas; that is not the case, and we have welcomed initiatives to extend services, to improve journey times in some areas and to open new stations on the rail network. However, in a number of areas, there has not been enough progress and certain options in the consultation document threaten not to improve rail service provision in Scotland but to make it far worse.
One aspect of the consultation document that has caused great concern is the proposal to close a number of railway stations.
Yes I can. As the minister is well aware, the proposal is in section 7.
The proposal to close a number of railway stations is just one of our concerns about the consultation document. Although our motion highlights that issue, it is far from being the only aspect of the document that has met with huge opposition. Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a briefing on the future of rail and ferry services in Scotland, which was held as part of Scottish Trades Union Congress week in Parliament, at which I heard the concerns of a number of the transport unions about the document’s proposals. They expressed their opposition to proposals on the future of the sleeper franchise, on the separation of routes in franchise arrangements according to profitability and social provision and, of course, on the closure of stations. Despite what I imagine the minister is pointing to in his intervention, the trade unions are in no way comforted by his statement that they are just proposals. The fact is that the proposals have met with such widespread opposition because they are contained in a document about future rail services and have been put on the table in a consultation process.
However, although we believe that, on a range of issues, the consultation document is fundamentally flawed, we had hoped that our motion might find consensus and help to clarify the Scottish Government’s position on at least one subject that is covered in the document. The motion simply acknowledges that there are a range of concerns and that further discussion on the issues is required and, specifically, calls for rejection of the proposals that are set out in section 7 of the document to close 11 stations in and around Glasgow, which have been the subject of local campaigns for their retention and a campaign by Glasgow’s Evening Times. We hope that now that the consultation has concluded, the minister can confirm today that not only are there no current plans to close any of those stations, but that there is no question of their being closed.
The easiest way to obtain the clarity that we need on the issue is for Scottish National Party members to support our quite reasonable motion, although it is evident from some of the noises off that they will not do so.
My colleague Patricia Ferguson has been particularly active on the issue. In her members’ business debate on the subject, the minister refused to reject the proposition outright. He said then that there are no plans to close the stations and has reiterated that in his amendment. Of course, in the previous session of Parliament his predecessor announced that there were “no plans” to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link project, but only a week later the SNP did exactly that.
The minister’s attempts to downplay the significance of the proposals—which are clearly there in the consultation document—is undermined by the fact that SNP regional members in Glasgow have been issuing leaflets under the banner of the save our stations campaign. Although the minister may be adamant that there is no threat to the 11 stations, it is evident that he has failed to reassure his own back benchers in Glasgow on that point.
Although there are more than 60 stations in Scotland that are within 1 mile of another station, when further information was requested on which stations are under consideration in the light of section 7 of the consultation document, a list was provided that identified the 11 stations in question. Indeed, the consultation document refers specifically to their costing £208,000 in lease costs. The ambition behind highlighting that part of the consultation document is clearly a cost-saving exercise.
The concerns have been justified and it is extremely important that any threat of closure be lifted from those stations and that the people who rely on them every day, for example to get to work, can be reassured that the stations will continue to be a vital part of the rail network in Glasgow and Scotland. What we want to hear from the minister in the course of the debate is not simply that there are no plans to close any of those stations, but that they will not close and that the proposal that they should close has already been rejected. If he is able to confirm that, I would question why the SNP does not support our motion.
As Patricia Ferguson highlighted in the motion for her debate, all nine stations in Glasgow that featured on the list of 11 have seen an increase in passenger numbers in the past two years; in one instance, passenger numbers have grown by 189 per cent since 2005. There is a clear demand for the services that the stations provide. They provide crucial services not only in Glasgow, but in Paisley and Motherwell. That is why they should be a key feature of the work to grow the local economies in those areas as we seek to grow the wider Scottish economy.
There will only be increasing scepticism about the credibility of plan MacB if, in this area, as with others, the actions of ministers do not match the rhetoric. We want a rail network not with a reduced number of stations but with increased access to rail services.
As I highlighted at the beginning of my speech, the proposals on the closure of rail stations are but one of a host of issues on which we are at odds with the consultation document. We are deeply concerned that the effect of the proposals on passengers will be higher fares, overcrowding on trains, longer journey times on certain services and an end to cross-border rail services, with many passengers being forced to break their journeys. We are concerned by the proposal on the sleeper franchise, and the separation of franchises between those that are deemed to be profitable and those that are deemed to be provided for social reasons.
There are also proposals in a number of other areas that we believe are unacceptable. Although we will return to many of those issues in the coming months in Parliament, we wish to emphasise today that the consultation process is fatally flawed. It has raised questions that it seeks to answer with proposals that will do nothing but damage the provision of vital rail services.
We need to go beyond the consultation process and have a debate about the opportunities that exist to improve rail services in the years ahead. I commend to the minister—indeed, to all members—the briefing from TRANSform Scotland, which very much reflects our thinking when it says that further consultation is required of the Scottish Government on the future of rail services, including further consultation on specific areas in which there have been inadequate opportunities for passengers and stakeholders to engage in the crucial debate on the future provision of rail services.
The consultation document represents a threat to, not an opportunity for, our rail services. The Scottish Government should come forward with a far superior vision for the future of those crucial services for our society and economy. That should be the focus for building the rail services and the rail network that Scotland needs.
That the Parliament recognises the concerns expressed in Glasgow that the Rail 2014 - Public Consultation calls into question the future of 11 railway stations in and around the city; calls on the Scottish Government to reject any proposals for the closure of these stations; also recognises that this is only one aspect of the Rail 2014 - Public Consultation, which has already given rise to questions regarding the quality of the provision of rail services across Scotland in the future, and believes that further debate and dialogue will be required beyond the conclusion of the consultation process, both in the Parliament and with all those for whom the future of rail services is of vital importance.
I am pleased to have a chance to reiterate once again the Government’s position. It is important to bear it in mind that the process was a consultation and that there are no plans to close stations in Glasgow or anywhere else in Scotland. We finished the consultation only on Monday this week, so it is only right that we respect the people who responded and take time to consider what they had to say before we come to conclusions.
The consultation rightly raised a number of issues, including how to contract for services and how to pay for them, and how to get the best use out of the rail network. There is no question but that 2014 is a crucial year for a number of reasons, including the fact that there will be a new funding package for Network Rail and a new contract for rail passenger services. We must consider all the options in preparation for 2014. Had we not done so and had that not been evident in the consultation document, I am pretty sure that the Opposition parties would have demanded that we do exactly that.
Richard Baker’s motion implies that there has not been full and adequate consultation, although he also seemed to suggest that we rule out certain things rather than consult on them. I assure members that there has been considerable debate across Scotland in the past three months. There were detailed presentations and discussions with regional transport partnerships; presentations were given for stakeholders in each of those regions, to which all members of this Parliament, council leaders, members of the United Kingdom Parliament, business groups, local interest groups and the rail industry were invited. We also held public events at railway stations across the country. Self-evidently, the consultation was not a paper exercise. All the views that were expressed at those events will be taken into account.
It is surprising that Richard Baker, who clearly has an interest in the matter, did not take the opportunity to find out more about the issues that were raised at some of those events. We have made it clear throughout that the consultation process has been about options. Richard Baker continually used the word “proposals”, even though it does not appear in the consultation document. He will find that the paragraph from which he quoted does not contain the word “closure” at all. It says:
“We do not intend to reduce the size of the Scottish rail network, or reduce the number of stations”.
However, Richard Baker manages to take from that a proposal to close stations. Perhaps he can elaborate.
It is a distortion of the English language to say that that is a proposal for closure. The word “closure” is not in that paragraph. The first part of the paragraph states:
“We do not intend to reduce the size of the Scottish rail network, or reduce the number of stations”.
That is fairly self-explanatory.
I will make progress, then I might come back to Mr Harvie.
We have made it clear throughout the consultation period that we are talking about options and not proposals. We have also been clear that one aim of the consultation is to provide information. We all acknowledge that the rail industry is fragmented—the legacy of previous Governments of various hues. It can be difficult to find out information on how the industry operates and what it costs. The consultation was an opportunity to address that gap in knowledge and has, in that regard, been a tremendous success. We have received more than 1,200 written responses. We now need time to review them to help to inform the way forward. Everybody’s response is important in that, including the views that we will hear today.
We have no plans to close stations in Glasgow or anywhere else in Scotland.
Richard Baker talked about a request for information on which stations are under threat, but that was not the nature of that request. People asked for information about the 11 stations that have been mentioned in respect of footfall and their location. It was not a request for information about which stations are under threat. As he has done on several occasions, Richard Baker misrepresented completely the background to what happened. We recognise that footfall and location are only two of several factors in determining a station’s importance. Several Opposition members might be interested in Airbles station, which is of particular use for Motherwell FC’s ground and for workers at the Department for Work and Pensions pensions centre; and in Paisley St James station, which is of particular use for St Mirren FC’s ground.
Our track record on stations is that we have opened five new stations since 2007: Alloa station in my constituency, which I proposed as leader of Clackmannanshire Council back in 1999; Laurencekirk station, the opening of which has proved to be extremely successful; and Blackridge, Caldercruix and Armadale stations. Seven more stations are due to open as part of the Borders rail project. We have an extremely good track record on opening new stations.
In addition, Dalmarnock station in Glasgow is benefiting from an £11 million refurbishment programme, which is supported by a range of funders. There will be £426 million of investment in rail infrastructure this year—the highest level of investment since devolution. We will also provide substantial support for passenger services; since 2007, we have invested in the provision of 30,000 extra seats a day. The Airdrie to Bathgate link opened last year, and we have a fleet of new trains running in Ayrshire and Inverclyde. It will be interesting to hear from Labour members what Labour’s vision for rail in Scotland is.
I do not know on how many occasions we have said that we have no plans to close those stations. However, we must listen to what people have said in the consultation. This is the difference between us and the Labour Party: when we say that we have “no plans” to do something, the Labour Party thinks that there is an agenda, because that is the way in which it operated. We are saying that we will listen to the consultation responses that we have received.
I look forward to hearing members’ genuine views, which we will seek to take into consideration, and I look forward to reading all the responses to the consultation. We are making a genuine attempt to improve rail services in Scotland. Our track record—whether on Borders rail, the Airdrie to Bathgate line, the new stations that we have opened or our record levels of investment—speaks for itself. It is in that vein that we intend to continue with our proposals for rail services in Scotland.
The consultation process has been what consultation processes should be: it has been genuine, it has laid out options and it has let people come forward with their own views. It is only right that we take time to consider those views. I hope that members will ask for a copy of the consultation responses so that they can see them. Richard Baker and Elaine Murray might be surprised by some of the proposals on station closures and the quarters from which they have come. They should come to an informed view, once they have had a chance to look at the consultation responses. That is what we are doing.
Regardless of that, we will continue to invest in rail services. We have seen a substantial increase in patronage, in the number of stations and in the investment that is being put into the infrastructure and passenger services. The Government intends to continue to invest in our rail services, which in the past have been fragmented, to improve them further for everyone.
I move amendment S4M-02086.1, to leave out from “the concerns” to end and insert:
“that Rail 2014 – Public Consultation gave members of the public, communities, businesses and organisations an opportunity to set out their aspirations for Scotland’s railways; notes that the Scottish Government will give due consideration to all responses to the consultation; acknowledges the repeated assurances of the Scottish Government that there has never been any intention, nor are there any plans, to close railway stations in Glasgow or indeed elsewhere in Scotland, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s record of investment and improvement in Scotland’s railway by including, for example, the reopening of the Airdrie to Bathgate railway, major improvements to Dalmarnock station, improvements to the Paisley corridor, new class 380 electric trains for Ayrshire and Inverclyde, the ongoing improvements to Waverley steps, additional services on the Highland Main Line, increased accessibility at stations across Scotland, the forthcoming Borders Rail project, the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme and the commitment to invest a minimum of £50 million in new sleeper trains.”
I congratulate Richard Baker on lodging the motion. I know that its subject has been dealt with in a members’ business debate, but it is important that we should get the chance to address it in a main debate in the Parliament. Patricia Ferguson’s work in bringing the matter to public attention has been welcome.
There was much in the consultation that was easy to oppose. Among the radical suggestions that were made were proposals to cut the sleeper service, the idea that we might be expected to stand for longer on trains and the suggestion that we might increase peak-time ticket prices simply to discourage people from travelling. Some of those suggestions were met with hysteria—I should know, because I led some of it. It is in the nature of a consultation that ideas are proposed that might be beyond the pale. It is up to us as politicians to focus our opposition on such ideas, and I believe that that is exactly what we have done.
Another responsibility that we have when consultations take place, as we have learned from bitter experience, is our duty as Opposition politicians to read between the lines and to interpret what might emerge from a consultation that is not obvious. I believe that that is what the Labour Party has done, and it is entirely appropriate for it to have taken such action.
It has been suggested by some—not least, the Labour Party—that we should never see a station close. I am not prepared to make that commitment, because I believe that, even during a period of expansion, the management of the rail network may require us to take tough decisions about individual stations. However, the idea that we might wreak havoc with the rail network, particularly in Glasgow, causes me serious concerns.
The reason for that is simple and fairly general: we in Scotland are not good at mass transit systems. Most of our cities lack the support that is necessary to get people into and out of the city centre effectively. We mostly rely on buses or cars. We had the bright idea of having a tram network in Edinburgh, but the concept of bringing trams into Edinburgh has been fraught with cost and practical difficulties. We should hold dear the idea that we have one city in Scotland that thought about transport in advance.
The Glasgow subway system is a precious jewel in Scotland’s crown, and we can ill afford not to give it proper investment and support in future. It is unacceptable to consider possible cuts to Glasgow’s suburban rail network.
Rationalisation is often used as an excuse for removing services. Scotland’s rail services, and those in Glasgow in particular, are seeing significantly increased footfall. Demand for those services has never been greater than in recent times, and they deserve our support.
I mentioned hysteria and my part in creating it, and such tactics are often used by Opposition parties. It is only natural that the Government should claim that it never had any such plan and therefore should not be attacked for the very suggestion that it did. Well, what I want to hear from this debate is very simple. At the end of today, I want to know that we have a clear commitment to the consultation process, a promise that no decisions have been taken already and an undertaking that no station will be closed. I also want a commitment that the rationalisation process will not be used simply to justify closures and a promise that what the minister says today will not change after the local government elections have passed. It is the cynical behaviour of politicians that discredits us in the eyes of—[Laughter.] I am glad that members are enjoying this. It is the cynical behaviour of politicians that discredits us in the eyes of the electorate. What the Government says today must stand up in the longer term.
It is essential that we look ahead and see the consultation for what it is, and that we get the Government to give us an undertaking that the consultation is not a Trojan horse for a closure programme that it will deny today but will implement in future.
Since I was elected to the Scottish Parliament, I have had the honour of representing my constituents in the parliamentary chamber and in Glasgow City Council. Most of the time that has been a pleasure, but one of the occasional drawbacks is that I have to listen to the same tired debates from the Labour Party in both places. Unfortunately for me, today is one of those days.
It is a real shame but no surprise that the Labour Party has wasted vital debating time on a manufactured, politically motivated and negative motion that has no basis in reality, as Labour members well know. One would have thought that, by this time, the Labour Party would have realised that scaremongering may get it the odd headline but is no substitute for policy. I suspect that Labour members will find that out, with devastating consequences, in May.
It is clear that the motion was not lodged with the future of Scotland’s railways in mind, because it is about the future of Labour council colleagues throughout the country, but primarily in Glasgow, who are facing the search for a new career in the near future.
Labour knows, I know and the public know that there are no closures of train stations in Glasgow—there never were and never will be.
I would love to, but I have only four minutes.
Why does the Labour Party not bring something positive to the table? Where are its plans for the railways in Scotland? Does it have any? I thought not. It does not have a policy or a constructive suggestion. It has nothing. Richard Baker’s motion talks about “concerns expressed in Glasgow” about
“the future of 11 railway stations”.
The minister has told us that those 11 stations have been named because someone asked for the names. I am sure that we are all keen to know who that was and how it came about. It has come to my attention that, at a public meeting that was arranged by my local Labour member of Parliament, that mystery person asked the question. We all know him: he is the defeated Labour candidate who did not see his own downfall coming when it was staring him in the face.
I am not suggesting for a moment that this is a set-up—heaven forfend—but it has involved a Labour MP arranging a meeting to discuss the consultation, a member of the public asking for stations to be named and, once they were named, Labour running its council election campaign around that. At the very least, it is political opportunism of the worst kind.
As Labour scrabbles around for a bandwagon to jump on—or create—the SNP continues to invest in Scotland’s rail services. Our rail network receives a higher public subsidy than any network elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the recent budget passed by this Parliament increased expenditure on rail services and on maintaining the current network.
The SNP’s record on transport is one to be proud of, especially in Glasgow. That is demonstrated by our additional investment in the Glasgow subway and our commitment to fastlink, which will be an important piece of infrastructure when we host the Commonwealth games. The new Southern general hospital is another huge investment in Glasgow by this Scottish Government. There are countless other examples, which I am sure my colleagues will mention.
We have even put on an extra five trains a day between Glasgow and Dundee. I realise that Labour members do not have much reason to visit Dundee any more, but they have to accept that that is not the behaviour of a Government that does not recognise the importance of railway services.
Labour’s petition against the rail 2014 consultation states:
“I am against many of the changes proposed to Scotland’s railway network.”
It does not specify a single change, and I am sure that I am not the only person who read that and thought of Father Dougal standing outside the cinema in an episode of “Father Ted”, chanting, “Down with this sort of thing.” It is completely meaningless and shows the campaign for precisely what it is—an electioneering tool for May. Labour knows that there is no threat and wants to be able to claim the credit for changing the minister’s mind when he confirms that. That will not work.
Presiding Officer, if you invited me to a party—I await that call—and I said that I had no plan or intention to turn up, but then did, your response would be, “You told me you weren’t coming.” No plans and no intentions means not happening—in this case, no station closures.
Benjamin Franklin once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Clearly, the Labour Party is so desperate that it is willing to play the politics of the madhouse. It has no ideas, no vision and no policies, so all that it is left with is the politics of negativity, carping from the sidelines and spreading fear in local communities. I have—
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The motion recognises the real concern felt by many in communities in and around Glasgow about the future of their local train stations. Five stations in my constituency are on the list. Colleagues will recall the members’ business debate in my name when I and members from all parties represented in this chamber sought a clear statement from the minister that no station would close as a result of the consultation. I will not rehearse the argument that I made during that debate against the closure of those stations, because it is on the record. I note from the Government’s amendment that the mantra of “no plans” has been supplemented by there being no intention to close stations, but I had hoped that the minister would have taken this opportunity to say unequivocally that no stations will close.
It has been suggested—we have heard this again today—that the save our stations campaign is mischief-making. We have also heard again today that the names of the stations were only provided in response to a request. The reality, however, is that when a consultation with a foreword by a cabinet secretary and a minister highlights 11 stations, it is entirely reasonable to ask that they be named. Moreover, when it becomes apparent that those 11 stations are part of a potential group of 60, it is also reasonable to question why they have been singled out, to work hard with concerned local communities to bring their concerns to the attention of the Government and, when we fail to secure an unequivocal statement from the Government that no station will close, to redouble our efforts.
It is no coincidence that since my members’ business debate a month ago, when the minister did not take the opportunity to shut down the debate once and for all, my office has been inundated with e-mails, letters and requests for petitions, because people understand that the phrase “no plans” does not equate to a guarantee that their local station will be safe.
The Evening Times first identified the potential problem and is to be congratulated on the way in which it has supported communities in Glasgow on the issue. The Evening Times understands Glasgow and the economic, social and environmental problems that the stations’ closure would cause. It is a shame that the Government does not get it, too.
The amendment in the minister’s name talks about the benefits that the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme will bring. Let me tell members what EGIP could mean for train travellers in my constituency. The Anniesland to Glasgow Queen Street service, which runs through my constituency, is a busy route, with journey times of between five and 15 minutes. In recent years several new stations have opened, and passenger numbers have increased year on year.
The plans for EGIP threaten the service. Currently, the service arrives at a high-level platform at Glasgow Queen Street, but the advent of additional trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh would leave simply no room for the Anniesland to Queen Street service. It appears that options are being discussed whereby passengers along the line would be required to travel in the opposite direction, back to Anniesland, where they would change trains and make their way to Queen Street by a more circuitous route. Anyone who has ever travelled on the line knows that that is not a viable option. The journey from Ashfield to Queen Street would take not the five minutes that it currently takes but more than 30 minutes. Few people would consider making such a journey, and my concern is that the overall number of passengers would decrease and threaten the line’s viability.
The logic of the minister’s speech—
This reminds me of Westminster, which is much stricter with time.
I thank the Scottish Government for its many investments in rail, especially those that have benefited the east end of Glasgow. First, I welcome the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link, which has not been given the attention or praise that it deserves. Despite the name that it is often given, the line does much more than connect Airdrie and Bathgate, as many members know. It has opened up six stations in my constituency, with services every 15 minutes from the east end of Glasgow directly to Bathgate, Edinburgh Park, Haymarket and Waverley.
Secondly, I am delighted to welcome investment in Dalmarnock rail station of some £11 million or £12 million. Dalmarnock is set to become the station for the Commonwealth games, and as a legacy for the area it will be the station for Celtic Park, the indoor sports arena and the area in general.
There have been many other improvements recently, such as a new pedestrian bridge at Shettleston and new access ramps at local stations, which are extremely welcome.
This is a difficult time to embark on major new expenditure; a challenge that we face is to hold on to what we have. It would be disappointing to think that any station might close. The Victorians left us with a tremendous network that is comparable to that of many European cities. Strathclyde partnership for transport—which used to be the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority and the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive—has sought to protect and develop the network over the years.
Beeching cut back lines and services to such an extent that we now realise that what happened was far too drastic and seriously damaged the overall network. I would be concerned if any station were to close, especially Duke Street, which lies just outside my constituency but is the closest station to Parkhead Forge and the retail park, which are the major shopping centres in my constituency—it is also the closest station to my office.
Not only do we not want stations to close but we want to have a bit of vision and we want new stations to open, even if that happens only in the medium or longer term. Top of my wish list is a station at Parkhead Forge on the main line between Glasgow and Edinburgh via Airdrie and Bathgate, which would not just serve the shopping centre but give direct access to Celtic Park from Glasgow city centre and from Edinburgh. There are problems with the site, because the track that crosses Duke Street has a neutral section, and I am advised that if a train stops in that section it is unable to start again. That makes it more expensive to put a station there. However, it would be useful to have a station at Parkhead Forge.
I also hope for the electrification of the Whifflet line, which serves three stations in my constituency, to allow trains to use the low level at Glasgow Central station. That touches on a point that Patricia Ferguson made about congestion in the two high-level stations. In the long run, if we could get more trains into the low level at Queen Street and at Central, there could be much more train transport. There are also problems with congestion at Partick and we need to consider turn-back at Charing Cross.
My third main wish would be for crossrail at some stage, which would link the north and the south of the city. A station at Glasgow Cross would be a tremendous boost for the Saltmarket in that area, which has struggled.
We face challenging times. We should protect the system that we have, but we must also have a bit of vision for the longer term and look at how we can expand the network in Glasgow and in Scotland.
I must say at the outset, for absolute clarity, that, given the process that surrounds consultations, the transport minister could not have been clearer that the Scottish Government has no plans to close any station. I look forward to that being confirmed once the Government has considered the consultation responses. I will be interested to know what various organisations have said about station closures once the responses become publicly available.
People have been concerned about train stations, and the Evening Times has played an important role in voicing those concerns—a responsibility that I know the newspaper takes seriously. Glasgow MSPs have a responsibility to address any concerns that are raised, which is why I met the transport minister and gained the reassurances that I believed were important. However, MSPs also have a responsibility to suggest enhancements to our rail network—indeed, we were encouraged to do so.
I therefore thank the Labour Party for so generously donating its debating time to me this morning; I will use it to draw to the minister’s attention once more some of the suggestions that I made in response to the rail 2014 consultation.
One issue that I raised concerns service provision on the Maryhill line. I often use the line to go to meetings with constituents, and it has been a significant success. However, the service remains incomplete: it does not run on Sundays except occasionally at Christmas time.
I will provide some examples of why a Sunday rail service is important. In Kelvindale there is a high level of car ownership, and 50 per cent of train tickets that are sold there are season tickets, which highlights the importance of the train for commuting to work. On Sundays, residents still wish to travel, and if they want to go shopping in the city centre, for example, they may well choose to use a car instead of the train for that journey. They may even skip the city centre altogether and take a car to the out-of-town shopping centres. A Sunday service could therefore have both economic and strong environmental benefits.
At Gilshochill station, which is on the same line, passenger numbers have trebled in the past four years. The Cadder area of Glasgow that the station serves is not well served by alternative public transport links and has a lower level of car ownership. The train is an important service for that community, and extending the service to run on Sundays would meet local social need. Other stations on the line are in a similar position.
I ask the minister to be cautious about any analysis that he may receive of passenger numbers for the four Sundays before Christmas, when First ScotRail occasionally runs trains as part of its franchise commitment, as those services have been subject to cancellations. In 2011, the service ran only on two Sundays before Christmas, and in 2010 it did not run at all.
Uptake of such services depends on commuters being aware of them, and on strong service reliability. There is likely to be significant room for improvement on both counts. Consequently, any data that is received on demand for a Sunday service will be highly unreliable. I therefore ask that consideration be given to my suggestion that services on the Maryhill line be expanded to run on Sundays on a regular basis, and for that to be a potential condition of any future franchise.
I am sure that the minister will want to consider the various suggestions that I made in my submission, including the feasibility of a train station at Robroyston, enhancements on the Newton line and greater connectivity in north Glasgow. I explored the idea of connecting the Maryhill and Springburn lines; the price for that was an eye-watering £40 million to £60 million, but in the medium to long term, we must take a strategic look at developing the rail network.
Finally, it would be worth exploring the idea of a not-for-profit operator. I thank the minister for listening to my suggestions.
I am glad to speak—quickly—in the debate, on an issue that, as we have heard, is of great interest to the people of Glasgow. I thank my colleague Councillor Alistair Watson and Glasgow’s Evening Times for their save our stations campaign, which highlighted the level of real concern that constituents in Glasgow feel.
Last month, when Patricia Ferguson secured a members’ business debate on rail services, I read Transport Scotland’s rail 2014 public consultation document. I noticed that the ministerial foreword says that the Government believes that it
“can achieve a distinctly Scottish railway, attuned to the needs of our country”.
Figures show that the number of people who use the Glasgow stations that are at risk—those listed in the fact sheet—has risen in recent years. That surely illustrates the need to keep stations open in that part of the country. The fact that the number of people who use those stations has increased at a time when train fares have continued to rise suggests how important the stations are. The Government says that it wants to, and believes that it can, achieve a railway that is “attuned to the needs” of the country, and it is clear that the country’s biggest city needs those stations.
In relation to the stations in Glasgow that could be affected by closure, we need to consider the impact on our communities. For example, the elderly rely on having train stations close by. Do we ask them to stretch their pensions even more to take a taxi to a station that is further away? Like most other cities, Glasgow has a lower number of car owners than is the average outside the cities, so more people rely on public transport. Those people also stand to lose out if the changes come to fruition.
We have heard that the Government has no plans to close stations, but the people of Glasgow, whom I represent, remain deeply concerned that a number of railway stations are under threat. Is it any wonder that they are sceptical, given the Government’s well-known cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail link project and its extension of the ScotRail franchise without consultation?
The rail 2014 consultation document could have provided us with an opportunity to debate positive changes to the way in which our rail services are delivered. As 2012 is the international year of co-operatives, we could have discussed the potential for a co-operative model for our railways. I am keen to hear from the minister in his closing speech what work the Government will do to pursue that as a viable alternative. Surely money that is generated on our public transport should be ploughed back into improving standards and services and not into shareholders’ pockets.
Instead of discussing such alternatives, we are being asked by concerned constituents to ensure that the Government takes heed and bins the station closure plans. I hope that the Government will listen to those calls, drop the proposals and support the motion, as those constituents are also its constituents and the Government will ultimately be answerable to them. I also hope that the Government will not blame any closures in the near future on the results of the consultation.
Following the members’ business debate at the end of January, I welcome a second opportunity to put on record my views. Since speaking in that debate, I have attended public meetings about some of the stations that are mentioned in the fact sheet. I attended one last month, along with Johann Lamont. To my surprise, there was barely a fag paper between us, as the saying goes.
All of us would, of course, express our concern should any of the stations that are mentioned in the fact sheet that accompanies the rail 2014 consultation close but, from the outset, the minister has been robust and unequivocal about the fact that there are no plans to close any stations in Glasgow or anywhere else in Scotland. I do not fault colleagues for asking the Scottish Government for reassurances about rail stations or local amenities that they fear for—that is part of the job that we are elected to do. However, as Alex Johnstone said, with an elected position comes a responsibility not to peddle fear and not to scare communities into believing that there is a threat to local services when one does not exist.
All of us in the chamber—including Opposition members—know fine well that no station in Glasgow is truly under threat. We know that the stations that were mentioned were simply on the fact sheet in response to a stakeholder question, whose context James Dornan laid out.
Although they are dwindling in number, some former ministers remain on the Labour benches, and they must remember—although perhaps they choose to forget—how consultations work. Are they seriously suggesting that they would not have bothered to answer the question had it come before them?
As they have offered such vociferous and robust debate, I am sure that all the Labour MSPs who have spoken today have made submissions to the rail 2014 consultation. It will be interesting to read whether they present a vision for Scotland’s rail network. My own submission to the consultation stated that it is vital for our local communities to be connected to public transport hubs and railway stations—especially as increasing numbers of people rely on public transport. The Scottish Government’s transport policies have helped to shift people from their cars on to our railways. Of course more can and should be done, but we are heading in the right direction.
The consultation is an opportunity to develop a vision of the kind of rail network that we want for our communities. Like John Mason, I have suggested that additional stations could be built in areas where housing developments are expanding. I will continue to work with local councillors, other MSPs and the Scottish Government to help to push the case for a new rail station in the Robroyston area in the north-east of Glasgow, and anywhere else where provision might be needed.
As James Dornan highlighted perfectly, none of us is oblivious to the context within which the debate is raging: we are less than 10 weeks away from local elections. All eyes are on Glasgow. The Labour Party’s domination of the city is being challenged, its iron grip is being loosened, and it is trying every tactic in the handbook to hold on desperately to its last bastion of power.
A couple of weeks ago, a councillor—a friend of many of those on the Labour benches—was in tears, claiming that her son’s apprenticeship had been threatened for a vote for the ruling Labour administration. Serious allegations have been made. That is no way to run a city.
The people of Glasgow are entitled to an honest debate over the next 10 weeks about local issues, including railway stations. They are entitled to an honest debate—not bluff, not bluster, not smoke and mirrors, and not being scaremongered into a vote. The people of Glasgow deserve better.
With today’s debate, it feels a little as if we have been here before. Like me, a number of the speakers talked on this issue a few weeks ago in Patricia Ferguson’s members’ business debate. I congratulated Ms Ferguson on securing that debate, and I congratulate Labour on bringing the issue forward again today.
In the previous debate, I said that the overarching need was for clarity, and that is what today’s motion searches to find. We have heard a number of speeches today on a great many rail issues around the country that are raised by the Transport Scotland consultation document and the accompanying fact sheet. My colleague Alex Johnstone spoke at length about the sleeper services, as did Richard Baker.
Although it is right that rail changes are discussed in the round, I am pleased that the lion’s share of today’s debate has been based on the perceived threat to the 11 stations in Glasgow that are within 1 mile of another station and are on the list. As a Glasgow MSP, I have received a number of representations on this issue, as have others. Glasgow residents have real worries over any doubts about trains on the Maryhill and Paisley canal line.
As they stand, the consultation document and the accompanying fact sheet make it look as though stations throughout Glasgow are under threat simply because they are within 1 mile of another station. There are 14 stations in that category, and I can assure members that Glasgow residents are alarmed by any prospects of closure. That concern is not manufactured; it is real.
More than half a million journeys are made on the Maryhill line every year, and there has been continuous annual traffic growth at all stations. The line serves some of the most deprived areas of Glasgow—areas where other modes of transport are frequently not available.
Bob Doris mentioned my local station—Kelvindale—and said that, despite the high car ownership in the area, the station is well used. It is worth remembering that Kelvindale opened only in 2005, and that it has been a great benefit to local residents. How on earth can it be sensible to close the station now, when passenger numbers are rising year on year, and car ownership is going down?
We can consider another station on a different line. Nitshill is in a deprived area of Glasgow, and it appears that the station could be under threat, as it is one of the stations on the list. The area is poorly served by buses—recently, the 45 route was shortened—and the level of car ownership is low. That may explain why the number of rail passengers has increased by 50 per cent over the past five years. Given that the station not only serves the people of Nitshill but affords access to the Glasgow museums resource centre, which is visited by more than 11,000 people every year, surely what Nitshill needs is investment to provide step-free access to the southbound platform, and certainly not closure.
At a meeting that I had in Kennishead, which has been affected by the threats and scaremongering, once I explained to the people there what the minister had said, they said that they were comfortable with it, and they were surprised about what was happening. Does the member accept that the scaremongering is affecting communities much more than the consultation is?
I have had representations from people who are genuinely worried and are looking for more clarity. That is what I am asking for.
The whole point of a suburban rail line is to have plenty of stations on it. The point is to allow the maximum number of people to use the train services for commuting and leisure. As the representations from my constituents make clear, the consultation has caused consternation and alarm. Now that it is closed, I hope that the minister will give us clarity—not just a Yes, Ministeresque “There are no plans to scrap X, Y or Z” response. When it comes to rail services in Glasgow and GARL, residents know what “no plans” means from the Scottish National Party Government.
I am sure that members will agree that the level of interest in the consultation and the number of responses that we have received are such that we should allow adequate time to review those responses before we make any proposals for the way forward.
One of the Opposition parties honestly admitted to “hysteria” in the response to the initial publication of the document. It would be interesting to know whether Ruth Davidson thinks that she was hysterical in her response—it would be interesting to know whether it was just one person in the Tory party, Alex Johnstone, or members across the Opposition parties who were hysterical. Alex Johnstone, who made some salient points, said that we should respect the commitment to the consultation process and asked us to rule out further consideration of some of the responses. It is not possible to do both. We must listen to what people said in the consultation.
Ruth Davidson made a point about a “Yes, Ministeresque”—if that is a word—response in respect of any plans. That may be how the Tories have done things in the past, but that is not how we do things here. This is a genuine consultation process. They should not judge us by their own standards. We have a genuine commitment to the consultation process. We noted, of course, the points that were made about a hysterical response to the consultation. Not for the first time, there was enthusiastic applause from Labour for a Tory speech on railways. How often are we seeing that these days?
It is quite clear that there has been scaremongering, but I do not deny that there is doubtless genuine concern. Whenever there is consultation on an area of major public policy that is of interest to the public, there is bound to be concern, but a number of SNP back benchers have made the point that that concern has been exploited and blown out of all proportion for party-political ends. That is evident from this debate.
I remind the minister that it is not only Labour, the Tories or others who have campaigned on the issue; his own party has done so, too. In the spirit of his consultation as he has espoused it, how many people who responded to the consultation and said that a station should be closed will it take to make a station close?
If I get this right, the Labour Party wants to set a benchmark by which we will choose to close a station. We will not do that. We will listen to what the people have to say. [Interruption.]
Part of the problem that the Labour Party has is that scaremongering is not an alternative to a vision. That is a simple fact. We have heard nothing about a vision. I cannot say how disappointed I was to hear, for example, Ruth Davidson saying how pleased she was that so much of the debate had been taken up by what she referred to as the “threat” to stations. The Opposition parties have missed an opportunity to talk about the vision for Scotland. That should be contrasted with the contributions by members such as John Mason, Bob Doris and Humza Yousaf, who talked about things that they wanted to see, such as an increased number of stations and improved services.
We have had a massive cut to our budget—£1.3 billion. A third of our capital programme has been decimated by the UK Government. I do not deny that those improvements are, therefore, difficult to put in place. We are putting more money into the railways than the previous Scottish Governments did. That is difficult to do, but it is right that we at least have that vision.
We have some positive things to say with regard to new stations. We will carefully consider the responses that talk about new stations and ways in which we can grow the network. Unfortunately, we have heard little about that from the Labour Party.
There has been a recognition of the growth in passenger numbers. Even the Labour Party must admit that there must be a correlation between the approach that we have taken—the increased investment, the new stations that we have opened, the new lines that we have opened and the investment in Borders rail, which will continue into the future—and increased patronage. The Government has grown the rail network in Scotland and has put a substantial amount of money into it.
As was mentioned earlier, a report that was published a couple of weeks ago said that Scotland’s rail is the most heavily subsidised in the UK. That was condemned, but that is a sign of our commitment to the railways—greater commitment than has been shown by previous Governments. Members should not forget that many of the points of concern that were raised by Labour members and others are the result of the railway infrastructure that we have and how the railways are organised, which Labour did nothing to change over 13 years. If it wants a co-operative to come forward for the franchise, why did it not change the legislation to allow that to happen? Labour had 13 years in which to do that, but it did nothing.
It is essential that we continue to work towards a railway that meets the needs of Scotland. We know that there are constraints, such as questions of public finance and the increasing cost of rolling stock. It would have been nice if the Opposition speakers had acknowledged them.
The issue of fares was mentioned. What was not mentioned is the fact that we have kept the increases in Scotland to a much lower level than those in the rest of the UK, including the increases that took place during the time when Labour was in control in the UK. That was not mentioned at all, but it is a measure of our commitment to the railways.
No. If Mr Baker goes back and checks his figures, he will find that that was not the case. The increase south of the border was not 5 per cent. Again, as earlier, he has got his figures wrong. Perhaps he would have been better informed if he had gone to some of the consultation events and engaged in the consultation process.
We are going to listen to the 1,100 responses that we have had so far, as well as the points that have been made in today’s debate. We should be listening to those views. It is absolutely right that the Government listens to the consultation responses. It is also absolutely right that we set out options, which have continually been referred to as proposals by the Conservative leader and others. They are not proposals. That was made clear. However, there is obviously a political imperative to dress them up in that way.
We will continue to invest in our railways and we will oppose the negative scaremongering that is going on. We will see who has been right all along when the determinations are made.
Let us get back to why people are worried and what was said in the consultation document, which started off those worries. This issue was not invented by the Labour Party or the Conservative Party; it was set out in that document. Paragraph 7.8 says:
“from time to time, closures and network modifications need to be considered in the light of changing operational needs and passenger travel patterns.”
Two paragraphs later, the document mentions stations on the rail network that are located in close proximity to one another and specifically refers to the 11 stations in Glasgow, pointing out that they cost a total of £208,000. In paragraph 7.11, the document talks about reconfiguring the network
“by reviewing the location of stations.”
It is impossible to relocate a station without closing the one that is already there.
Mr Dornan wishes to make an intervention, but he himself expressed concern about the possibility of closures, and was quoted in a newspaper as saying that he was going to write to his constituents to seek their views on the effect of those closures on their communities.
“no intentions to close stations” and that the list of stations in Glasgow
“was asked for by someone at a station in Glasgow during the consultation exercise”.
Now Mr Dornan says that it was someone who apparently could not see their own downfall who asked for the list. When John Pentland asked for a list of stations that are within 1 mile of another station, the minister provided him with a list of 60 stations, but the person at the station got a list of the 11 such stations in Glasgow. The minister said:
“That person gave the criteria for what they wanted, which was information on stations close to each other and on the patronage numbers.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2012; c 5884, 5885.]
The list of the 11 stations in the Glasgow commuter area and, indeed, three others outwith that area that are within 1 mile of another station is in a document entitled “Rail 2014 Consultation – FACT SHEET - 1”, which was published on 16 December 2011 and which can be found in a link from the publications and consultations section of the Transport Scotland website. It does not sound like a list handed out to somebody at a station.
I confirm that that link exists and that it is quite right that we publish the information that we have been asked to provide; it was asked for and that is why we provided it. Given what Anne McTaggart said about the increased patronage, why does Elaine Murray think that the stations concerned are at risk? What is the risk to them?
They were mentioned in the minister’s document; they were specifically mentioned in the consultation document. That makes people think that they may be at risk.
The fact sheet to which I referred has links to other publications relating to station usage and so on. The fact sheet appears to be an official accompanying document and there is no indication that it was produced in response to somebody in a Glasgow station. Interestingly, the “Rail 2014—Public Consultation” web page also has a link to fact sheet 2, which contains information about cross-border services. I can only surmise that somebody at Gretna Green station asked for that information, but it was not me. Perhaps I am not somebody who did not foresee their “own downfall”, to use Mr Dornan’s words.
The answer to John Pentland’s written question S4W-04884 which was lodged on 9 January and answered on 19 January, indicated that there are some 60 stations in Scotland that are within 1 mile of another station, so why was reference made to the 11 within the Glasgow commuter area in paragraph 7.10 of the consultation document, along with the cost of operation?
I wonder what question that person in the Glasgow station actually asked that caused him or her to be provided with a list of the 11 Glasgow stations and three others outwith the Glasgow area. What could Invershin station in Sutherland, Ardrossan Town station in North Ayrshire and Golf Street station in Angus possibly have in common with each other and 11 Glasgow stations that they do not have in common with the other 44 stations on the list that was provided in answer to John Pentland’s question other than that they might have been considered for closure, because they are not even all within the Glasgow area? Eleven of the stations are in Glasgow and three are elsewhere.
I draw members’ attention to Transform Scotland’s response on Monday to the consultation in which it referred to
“Recent station re-openings at communities such as Laurencekirk and Alloa”.
Incidentally, some of the lines that the minister is boasting about were initiated by the Labour-Liberal Scottish Executive and not by the Scottish National Party, but the SNP is taking the credit for our plans—it is nice to open things that we planned.
Transform Scotland has made the point that separation distance is not a valid tool and that, in fact, there is a good case for a metro-type service in the Glasgow area. Indeed, I think that some of the back-bench members who have spoken in the debate from various sides of the chamber made the case quite well for that. However, I was quite interested by Bob Doris mentioning the stations and enhancements that he would like but not speaking out about the campaign that he and his party’s candidates for Glasgow City Council have been running to save their local stations. They, too, must have been rather concerned that their stations might be closed. That is not just scaremongering. The way in which the consultation document was put together has caused concern generally.
When the consultation document first came out and the fear of closures was raised by the member and her colleagues, councillors did what they should do: they contacted the people whom they should have contacted and got the reassurances that they required. They did not have to campaign further to save our stations or anything else, because they knew once the minister had said that there were
“no plans and no intentions to close stations”—[Official Report, 26 January 2012; c 5884.]
that no closures were going to happen.
That is factually incorrect, because it was the Glasgow Evening Times that raised the concerns and started the campaign, not the Labour Party. Clearly, Patricia Ferguson’s and Ruth Davidson’s constituents still have concerns, because they are still writing to their MSPs expressing their worries. They are not reassured by the Government’s claims that it has no intention of closing stations, because closures have not been ruled out. People in Glasgow know that the SNP got rid of GARL after saying that it had no plans to do so. Frankly, they will not trust the Government unless it is a bit more clear.
In my last minute, I will refer to other issues in the consultation about which there is concern. Those include the ownership of stations, the dual-focus franchise and the fact that having profitable and non-profitable services on two different franchises could lead to the introduction of different levels of specification and, possibly, the deterioration of services in rural areas. The cross-border services and the hub approach also cause me a lot of concern. I hope that, in the future, we will get the opportunity not just to debate this but, in a longer debate that I hope the Government might be prepared to bring to the chamber, to go through a number of the proposals in the consultation. There are a lot of issues in that document that need to be discussed, which are causing concern in local communities.
I, too, believe in the opening of stations. I recently wrote to the Minister for Housing and Transport, requesting new stations for Eastriggs and Thornhill. Sadly, the minister, he say no.