The Transport (Scotland) Bill provides local authorities with a range of tools to influence and improve bus services in their area, ensuring that there are sustainable bus networks across Scotland. That includes options to pursue partnership working, local franchising or running their own buses in certain circumstances.
Some students in my constituency have no easy way of commuting to Cleveden secondary school in Kelvindale, an area that is poorly served by bus. Although I hope to secure a solution to that, under the current system, when Strathclyde partnership for transport tenders a socially desirable bus route, the process is costly, of limited value and often restrictive. Does the cabinet secretary agree that a co-production model for such bus routes, subsidised or otherwise, between communities, the council and bus companies, through which a strategic approach can be taken to socially desirable bus routes, would be far preferable? What can the bill do to address that key issue?
Partnership is at the centre of what we want to achieve with our proposals to improve bus services in Scotland. Part of the work that we are taking forward is around a new model for local transport authorities to work with bus operators to help to revitalise services. We are also committed to promoting positive changes and partnership working to improve bus services, and the best way for that to happen is by getting the right partners together. Bob Doris’s suggestion about taking forward those matters in a way that is based more on co-production, engagement and partnership is essential to ensuring that bus passengers are at the centre of the way in which we design and deliver bus services and that those services reflect the needs of local communities, including communities in his constituency.
I raised with the cabinet secretary’s predecessor concerns about cuts to bus services from Gills Bay and Wick to Inverness. Will the Transport (Scotland) Bill recognise that some of those socially desirable and important bus routes serve communities beyond the places that they are in and that it is absolutely crucial that, in that instance, Orkney is fully involved in any discussions about how that vital bus connection to the ferry services is taken forward?
As the member will be aware, the Government invests £250 million a year in bus services in Scotland through a variety of channels. Part of that support is to provide local authorities with subsidies for particular routes when necessary in certain circumstances. That will continue to be the case into the future. It is, of course, for local authorities to decide on where they wish to take such action.
The additional benefits that will be provided under the Transport (Scotland) Bill will include additional methods by which local authorities and other partners can consider taking action when they believe it to be socially desirable and necessary for a bus service to be made available when no commercial operator is in place.
Along with the investment that we are making, the provisions in the bill for additional options for local communities and local authorities will provide more opportunities for actions to be taken at the local level as and when they are necessary.