ScotRail Franchise (Break Clause)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th November 2018.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

It is time to move on to the next item of business. I ask members to change seats quickly, please. We are already behind time for the next debate, so some speeches may well have to be curtailed. [

Interruption

.] I ask members to show a little urgency, please.

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14720, in the name of Colin Smyth, on the ScotRail franchise break clause.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Today, Parliament has a chance to put Scotland’s rail passengers before the profits of our privatised rail firms and to say to commuters that we are listening. We will not sit idly by in the sidings while passengers suffer from a railway system where fares rise more quickly than wages, new trains run late before they have even been built and passengers wait on platforms wondering whether their train will even stop—and, if it does, whether it will be late or overcrowded.

Labour’s starting point in this debate is to be clear about what our railways are for: they exist to connect people and goods and to support a vibrant economy and a thriving society. That might seem obvious, but the reality is that, under the fragmented privatised rail system that we have today, public transport has become detached from public service. Our trains should be essential services, but instead they are being used by private companies simply as an opportunity to make profits—that is, until the private firm fails and the Government has to step in, and stepping in to end Abellio’s mismanagement of the current ScotRail franchise is exactly what this Scottish National Party Government needs to do.

On every measure of performance in the franchise—punctuality, cancellations and capacity—it is a case of fail, fail, fail. We have the worst performance since the franchise began. On punctuality, ScotRail has not met its target since 2015. Performance is now so bad that it has hit breach level—or rather, it would have been in breach of the franchise had the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity not struck a backroom deal in December to give ScotRail a licence to fail until June next year.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I will keep my intervention brief. Does Colin Smyth accept that data that ScotRail provided before the debate show that, since the start of the current financial year, 63 per cent of the faults have been the responsibility of Network Rail?

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

We could pass the buck, as the minister clearly wants to do. We could talk about the fact that contained in those figures for Network Rail are disruptions caused entirely by extreme weather. They do not show up in the ScotRail figures; they show up in the Network Rail figures. It may be Paul Wheelhouse’s position that we can make the weather better under an SNP devolved Administration—I do not know.

Frankly, we should not be letting ScotRail off the hook. When ScotRail was let off the hook, what did it do? The following month, it delivered an even worse reporting period performance, with the annual average public performance measure falling to its lowest point since 2006. By the company’s own admission, it will be 2019 before its performance improves enough just to scrape above breach level. According to the Office of Rail and Road’s most recent projection, ScotRail is unlikely to hit its performance targets until sometime in 2022, although ScotRail refuses to say whether that will happen. That is six years without hitting a single franchise punctuality target and six years of failure on the Scottish Government’s watch.

Plummeting performance is not limited to punctuality. The ORR also found that reliability in the first quarter of this year was the worst since records began. The situation is getting worse, because cancellations are skyrocketing, with the cancellation rate for the most recent reporting period being more than three times higher than it was at the same time in the first two years of the franchise, leaving more and more of Scotland’s passengers stranded. In addition, trains that run are increasingly likely to be overcrowded, with the moving annual average for capacity hitting a franchise low in the most recent reporting period. Improving punctuality, reliability and capacity year on year should be the basic aim of any franchise but, under the ScotRail franchise, after one failed improvement plan and the publication of a second, all three performance measures are getting worse.

It is not just in its franchise obligations that ScotRail is failing. On every key responsibility, from service quality to rolling stock management, the franchise is a shambles. The service quality incentive regime monitors the state of trains and stations across a range of measures, including cleanliness, safety, accessibility and staffing, which are crucial parts of any successful franchise. That monitoring shows that ScotRail has not hit more than half its SQUIRE targets since 2016 and that, at points, it has hit less than a quarter of them. Last year, ScotRail failed on so many measures that all that it delivered were record fines of more than £4.5 million. Things are getting worse again. This year, ScotRail has already racked up more than £2 million-worth of fines for failing to hit its SQUIRE targets—the highest ever level of fines at this point in the year.

The management of rolling stock has been equally shambolic. The long-awaited 385 class trains from Hitachi were delivered 10 months late and then they were almost immediately recalled for safety reasons. The so-called iconic refurbished InterCity 125s, which ScotRail said would transform rail travel in Scotland, are being rolled out without having controlled emission tanks fitted. In 2018, the ScotRail franchise is reintroducing on its services trains whose toilets will literally be emptied directly on to the tracks, despite there being a clear agreement not to do that. That shocking practice is as outdated as the 40-year-old trains and shows utter contempt for communities and for staff working on those tracks, whose health and safety will be compromised as a result.

However, it is clear from the Government’s amendment that none of that matters. The Government will continue to wring its hands and say that things are not very good but, when it comes to the crunch, it will be business as usual. The Government needs to wake up to the fact that this is a failing franchise operating within a failing franchising model.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I am sorry, but I do not have time

The franchise is a symptom of the fragmented, profit-driven, privatised railway system that was created 25 years ago this month. It is a privatisation experiment that needs to be driven to the end of the track. In Scotland today, we can take a first step towards doing just that.

There is a break clause in the ScotRail franchise that means that it could simply be allowed to expire in 2022 rather than be extended to 2025. The Government has the power to use that clause to put Scotland’s passengers—and, for that matter, Abellio—out of their misery and end the ScotRail franchise. Serving notice now would give the Government time to put in place a public sector operator of last resort and to prepare properly a public sector bid should there be any future franchise. However, from its decision not to directly award the northern isles ferry contract to the public sector to the timid Transport (Scotland) Bill, which will keep the ban that prevents local councils from fully running bus services, the Government is—at best—ambivalent about public ownership of public transport. That is why it will not enforce that break clause today.

If the Scottish Government was committed to public ownership, it would end the ScotRail franchise at the earliest opportunity and get serious about a public sector bid. It would recognise that, ultimately, we need an end to the wasteful and inefficient franchising system altogether. It would therefore back Labour’s calls for the repeal of the Railways Act 1993 so that we can have proper public ownership of our railways and bring track and train together, instead of separating Network Rail and rail operators, which has failed.

Even members who do not support public ownership must see that the current franchise is just not working and that it has to end sooner rather than later. When it comes to the vote later today, members will have a choice between putting passengers first or putting the profits of the privatised utilities first by allowing the franchise to continue.

My motion makes clear whose side Labour is on. Labour is on the side of Scotland’s passengers, rail staff and trade unions, who together say that enough is enough. It is time to call a halt to the franchise. It is time to end privatisation.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that the Scottish Government should exercise the break clause in the ScotRail franchise at the earliest opportunity.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse, to speak to and move amendment S5M-14720.3.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government has been clear in its ambition to ensure that Scotland’s railways deliver a world-class service across the country. Our record investment of £5 billion to March 2019 will deliver the outcomes of connecting communities, enabling opportunities and spreading sustainable economic prosperity across Scotland.

The ScotRail franchise is well into its fourth year under the stewardship of Abellio. The Parliament is fully aware that there continue to be significant challenges to the ability of both Network Rail and ScotRail to meet the Government’s challenging but achievable service performance targets, and the amendment in my name acknowledges that.

However, it is also important not to lose sight of the significant improvements that ScotRail has already delivered or of the further transformational improvements that this contract is on the cusp of delivering for Scotland. The upgrade and expansion of the rolling stock that is used in Scotland is well under way and passengers across the central belt have been able to travel on the new class 385 trains since July. The around 100 new electric carriages that were added to the ScotRail fleet this year enabled the main Edinburgh to Glasgow route to become a fully electric railway in August. Those faster, greener and longer electric trains have already replaced the 48 diesel carriages that travelled between our two main cities each hour and are therefore contributing to the delivery of both low-emission zones and the achievement our low-carbon transport targets.

We know that the introduction of those trains was not without problems and the Scottish Government has made clear its disappointment with Hitachi’s late delivery. Nonetheless, passenger feedback from those who have travelled on the new trains since they were introduced by ScotRail has been strongly positive. I know that members across the chamber—including Jamie Greene, John Finnie and John Mason—have been impressed by the modern onboard facilities, the availability of more seats, the improved accessibility and the better travel experience overall. ScotRail deserves credit because, when faced with Hitachi’s delayed delivery, it secured and introduced 40 available electric carriages—

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I have only six minutes, so I am afraid that I will have to pass just now.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

You have got six minutes.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am going to make progress, Mr Findlay, if you do not mind.

Putting passengers first, ScotRail secured and introduced 40 available electric carriages to ensure that there is an electric service with enough seats until Hitachi delivers the full new fleet. Those solutions have maintained service provision and increased capacity, with more than 17,200 extra seats already available each day on Edinburgh to Glasgow services—not that Colin Smyth acknowledged that.

As we move towards the delivery of all 70 of the new train sets by next spring, more trains will enter service on our newly electrified network, which is part of our £5 billion investment in the railway across Scotland. That will deliver significant improvements to routes from Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa in December and to the route between Edinburgh and Glasgow Central via Shotts from May 2019. The new fleet will also provide more seats on existing routes such as the North Berwick, Lanark and Glasgow south electric lines, which will in turn allow for a further cascading of existing refurbished trains to other routes. Overall, that will boost seating by 23 per cent compared with the start of the franchise. We of course want to do more, and another 200 extra services will be introduced across the country over the next few weeks to make rail travel more attractive for commuters and leisure users, and to boost the wider Scottish economy.

Labour members might not be interested in this, but they should listen to it. [

Interruption

.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Could we have a bit of quiet, please?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

ScotRail has recruited more front-line staff to deliver those enhancements; there are 126 more posts now than there were at the start of the franchise and a further 140 are being recruited. Indeed, ScotRail now provides a total of more than 5,000 jobs. The rolling stock that is needed will be freed up by the class 385s and refurbished high-speed trains entering service in the coming months.

Not only will the cascade support new services; it will enable more trains in Fife, the Borders, Inverclyde and Glasgow to run with more carriages, boosting the total number of carriages in the ScotRail fleet to more than 1,000. That is an increase of more than 50 per cent since 2007.

Although Colin Smyth and his colleagues might not recognise this, ScotRail is delivering its revolution in rail for passengers across the entire Scottish rail network. [

Interruption

.] If Labour members do not mind, I will continue. Growing numbers of passengers use the ScotRail franchise, continuing the constant growth in patronage throughout the life of this Government.

We have consistently stated in the chamber that performance is not where it should be, and we have reiterated to ScotRail and Network Rail the need for a robust and resilient plan to deliver improvements across the network and provide customers with a more reliable railway. Although ScotRail remains one of the best-performing large train operators in Great Britain—the moving annual average of its public performance measure is 1.9 percentage points better than the GB average—clearly the deterioration in performance needs to stop in order to return reliability and punctuality to our challenging but achievable targets.

The recommendations in the Donovan review that aim to support performance improvement and deliver a resilient railway are welcome, but we are yet to see those improvements take effect. However, we recognise that the suspension of skip-stopping services at stations to recover operations has been welcomed by passengers, with skip-stopping now at the lowest level on record.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

The minister said that we need to improve performance. Will he tell us when ScotRail will hit its performance targets?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Mr Smyth is failing to note the improvement that has been made—in the last year, skip-stopping has decreased by 84 per cent. [

Interruption

.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excuse me, minister. I ask people to stop shouting from a seated position, please, and recognise that, if we are to get through this debate, we are very pushed for time.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I know that time is short but, in the absence of a positive response from Mr Smyth, I will highlight a recent statement that was made by David Parker, who is the convener of the Scottish Borders Council. He has recognised ScotRail’s positive engagement in maximising the Government’s investment in providing rail services to residents of Midlothian and the central Borders. Councillor Parker stated:

“I have been very impressed with the team at Abellio ScotRail who have worked very hard to make the Borders Railway a success and are continuing to focus on improvements.”

Importantly, he also said:

Transport Scotland and Abellio ScotRail deserve credit for managing the enormous investment that is taking place in Scotland’s railways at the moment and for passengers, the benefits of those improvements will be felt very strongly in the year ahead.”

If Mr Parker can recognise that, perhaps Mr Smyth might do so in the future.

As the Parliament will be aware, 63 per cent of the delays on our railways are the responsibility of Network Rail. Timetabling has been centralised in Milton Keynes. There have been issues with vehicles being left on the tracks. [

Interruption

.] It is not just wet weather, Mr Smyth—the member might want to dig into the details.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You will have to come to a close, please, minister.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I know that I need to come to a conclusion, Presiding Officer—I thank you for your patience. I will pick up some of the other points in my closing speech, but I wish that Mr Smyth and his colleagues would give some credit to the staff and the management of ScotRail for the improved performance that they are delivering for our passengers.

I move amendment S5M-14720.3, to leave out from “believes” to end and insert:

“notes that the punctuality and reliability of ScotRail’s services continue to be below the Scottish Government contractual performance targets; recognises that both responsible parties for the effective operation of Scotland’s rail network, Network Rail and ScotRail, are delivering as their combined priority the implementation of a suite of system-wide actions as recommended in the review by Nick Donovan; further recognises that the Scottish Government has secured the right for a public sector body to bid to run Scotland’s rail services, but also notes that the majority of rail performance problems in Scotland are the direct responsibility of Network Rail, and calls on the UK Government to take the opportunity in its Rail Review to devolve authority for rail infrastructure to Scotland, so that responsibility for this rests with the Scottish Parliament.”

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. What do the standing orders say about a Government completely ignoring the substantive terms of a motion? Today’s motion is about the break clause.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

It is up to individual members how they respond and what they say in the chamber. I say to everyone involved that it might have been easier to answer that question if I had heard everything that has been said since the start of the debate.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Does Mr Wheelhouse really believe what he was reading out? Passengers watching the debate will be wondering what planet he is living on.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

No, let me make progress first.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Okay. If the minister can answer that question, that would be great.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

As somebody who believes in using official statistics—and I believe the statistics—and as somebody who uses trains, I see the improvement. Mr Greene has acknowledged the improvement in the rolling stock on social media, including Twitter. Perhaps he will acknowledge it today.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

We have got new rolling stock. I have been on that new stock and agree that the carriages are great, but that does not in any way solve the many problems that people are facing across Scotland. People who are standing on platforms waiting for a train are seeing them whoosh by. What will a new carriage do for them? What about people on crowded trains who cannot get a seat? What will a new carriage do for them, if there are no seats available? What about the commuters on this morning’s Larbert to Croy line who saw floodwater not on the track but coming through the roof of their train? What will the rolling stock do to support those people?

The lack of self-awareness in the minister’s amendment is incredible. Therefore, I have a lot of sympathy for the sentiment of Labour’s motion. It is forcing to the chamber an important point about performance. The status quo in performance is simply unacceptable to passengers.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Please let me make some progress. I want to explain—and I think that this may be why the member wants to intervene—why we will not support the motion. First of all, the Labour motion is asking us to end the current contract at the earliest opportunity. Presumably, that would be in 2020, when the break clause comes into force for the current franchise agreement, but we have no way of predicting what the quality of service will be in 2020. It is impossible to pre-empt a decision on whether the break clause should or could be applied at that time, so deciding today that it should be applied in two years does not make any sense. If the motion said that it should be an option on the table, perhaps I would have been more minded to support it.

Secondly—and this is the important point—nowhere in the motion does it say who Labour thinks should run the network in that event. Colin Smyth said it in his speech and it is no huge surprise to anyone in the chamber what Labour’s political view on that is. There are many views on who should or could run the railway, but the motion does not say that.

Thirdly, our amendment offers what I think is a sensible solution. When the break clause date approaches, the Scottish Government should come to the Parliament and outline its plan and explain to the Parliament its rationale for the decision that it wants to make, including the cost implications of that decision.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I want to be helpful to Mr Greene. He asked who would run the railways if the franchise was broken. It would be exactly the same position as happened with the United Kingdom Government when it broke the east coast main line franchise; it would be run by an operator of last resort. The important thing is that the franchise would be pronounced null and broken and we would have until 2022 to put that operator into place.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I am glad that Colin Smyth has such confidence in the UK Government. Unfortunately, I do not have the same confidence that the Scottish Government could take over as an operator of last resort. Even if Abellio decided to walk away from the contract, there is no evidence to suggest that a public bid could actually take over the running of the rail network.

We have so little time that I must move on to the Scottish National Party amendment, which I want to bring to members’ attention. Unsurprisingly, I will not be supporting it, because it does not paint a true picture of the situation. It does not even acknowledge that any of this is any of the Government’s fault. It is always someone else’s fault. It was someone else’s fault when we had the ferry debate last week and it is someone else’s fault when we are having a debate about rail this week. Time after time, that is the narrative that we get from the Scottish Government. Its claim that a majority of delays are Network Rail’s fault is a simplistic view at best, and factually misleading at worst.

Let us look at the facts. We looked at them in great detail today at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee and I wish that Mr Wheelhouse had watched that meeting—he might have changed his amendment if he had.

Thirty-seven per cent of delays on the ScotRail network are attributed to Network Rail infrastructure. That was not a majority last time I checked. Twenty-three per cent of delays are attributed to train operator avoidable issues, such as carriage faults or staffing issues. Nowhere does the Government amendment accept that the Network Rail figure also includes weather-related delays, passengers taking ill, vandalism to the line or other things that are outside the control of any operator. In fact, Alex Hynes himself told the committee this morning that all those uncontrollable factors are lumped into the Network Rail figure. To use the 62 per cent figure is completely disingenuous. The fantastical notion—

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am afraid that you must conclude now, Mr Greene.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The fantastical notion that the devolution of Network Rail will solve all those problems is simply untrue.

Presiding Officer, members have three simple options. They can back a Labour motion that calls for an end to the franchise but does not say who will run it, how it will be run or how much it will cost.

The Presiding Officer:

You do not have time to list three options. You must conclude.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

Or they can back our amendment, which offers a sensible and pragmatic solution.

I move amendment S5M-14720.2, to leave out from “believes” to end and insert:

“notes wide acceptance that current ScotRail performance is not meeting passengers’ expectations, as evidenced by its failure to meet its contractual Public Performance Measures (PPM) over the last two quarters, reaching its lowest performance in two decades in September 2018 with a PPM measurement of 87.5%; notes the decision taken by the Scottish Government in August 2018 to reduce the target to 87.18% in order to avoid a breach of contract, and the further decision taken in October 2018 to implement a ministerial waiver on enforcing the ScotRail performance targets from June 2019; notes that there are multiple reasons for delays to services, and calls on the Scottish Government to commit to continued monitoring of performance to ensure that the franchise meets its contractual obligations with a view to making a full assessment and evaluation prior to the 2020 break clause, and to report to the Parliament in a transparent and timely manner its intentions with regard to the ScotRail franchise, paying due regard to ScotRail staff, passengers and value for public money being at the heart of any decision.”

The Presiding Officer:

I apologise for cutting everybody short, but there is just no time this afternoon. I know that Mr Greene took two interventions, but even so there is no time.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I declare an interest as a member of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers parliamentary group. I thank members of the RMT, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association and all the other people who do an excellent job on our rail network.

I am certainly not here to deride ScotRail in its efforts, but I am here to discuss the motion that is before us, and it is one that is fundamentally about political philosophy and political intent. Colin Smyth has asked for the Scottish Government to exercise the break clause in the ScotRail franchise at the earliest opportunity, and that is certainly a position that the Scottish Green Party fully endorses. We believe that public services should be run exclusively in the public interest.

There is a statutory obligation placed on every limited company to maximise profits for its investors and investors will always trump our citizens.

Abellio is not a commercial company, as such. It is part of the state-owned Dutch railway. I am grateful to the RMT for its research into some of the finances, the loan from a parent company to the subsidiary, namely Abellio, the 8 per cent interest that is paid on that loan and the assumption that there is no reason why it will not be repaid. That rate of return, as the RMT briefing tells us, clearly outstrips the Rail Delivery Group’s claim of an average return of 2 per cent for train companies. There are questions to be asked that are worthy of further pursuit.

The franchise model is a Tory ruse to deliver public money to private companies. That is compounded by the rolling stock leasing companies. However, it is important that we understand the past and the future. The Labour Government could have changed the arrangement and did not do so, but I encourage sinners to repent and I am very happy with the position of the Scottish Labour Party.

I am also grateful to journalists at

The Ferret for their research and for finding a document that said that the SNP could not have allowed a public sector bid for the ScotRail franchise. It is important that we have an informed debate about it. That is not always the case.

I am also interested in something that I found on the SNP website that asks

“How will the SNP use new powers over public sector rail franchises?”

It says:

“This power was secured by the SNP Government.”

No, it was not. This power was delivered by the Smith commission and there were two other bodies on the commission that welcomed that. That is an inaccurate statement that is repeated in the Government’s motion. The website goes on to say:

“This year we will identify a suitable public body to make a robust bid for the next ScotRail franchise and will confirm the next steps for the preparation of a bid ... We support the further devolution of Network Rail in Scotland so that it becomes fully accountable to the people of Scotland.”

The Scottish Green Party supports that last bit but is very curious about the middle bit of this statement and the progress that has been made.

It is probably unusual to say so, but I was excited about going to a meeting in 2016 with other representatives of parliamentary groups and the trade unions that was called by the then cabinet secretary, following a period of widespread criticism of ScotRail’s performance. He said that the contract could be cancelled in 2020 and that contingency plans were in place for the Scottish Government to take over train services earlier. He talked about the performance at the time being unacceptable and confirmed that Abellio could be stripped of the contract if punctuality dipped. I am not a great one for figures because what people want to know is whether the train will turn up. Percentages do not mean much to them.

The cabinet secretary went on to say:

“If the Scottish Government, if Transport Scotland had to take over the railways tomorrow, we have contingency plans in place to do that.”

Those contingency plans are presumably still in place. It is unfortunate that some of these amendments are in front of us. I was very keen to have a detailed discussion of longer than four minutes on this issue. In the time that is left, I want to say that, sadly, we cannot nationalise our railways but we can ensure that they are run exclusively in the public interest. We have seen that three times with east coast. It is simply about political will, and the question is whether the SNP has it. The northern isles contract award would perhaps suggest not. However, if the SNP has that political will, how is it is going to demonstrate it?

The Presiding Officer:

I call Mike Rumbles. I ask all members to stick within four minutes, if possible.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

This debate is an opportunity to prod the Scottish Government to act more appropriately over the poor performance to date of the ScotRail franchise operator, and I thank fthe Labour Party for bringing the subject forward in its debating time. The Liberal Democrats will vote for the motion, if we get the chance to do so.

The transport secretary has been in post for only a short time. He takes over at a time when we are seeing the worst performance against agreed targets since the current franchise began. I felt sorry for Paul Wheelhouse as he tried to defend the indefensible. He has my sympathy.

The customer experience should be at the heart of delivering an effective and efficient rail service. I am afraid that the current franchise operator’s priority does not seem to be to put the customer first every time. Whether we are talking about delays to services, ScotRail’s policy of skip-stopping, which, I was glad to hear this morning, has at last been ended, customers’ ability to obtain seats on trains—now, there is a novelty—or the report in yesterday’s newspapers of the worst-ever level of train cancellations, at more than 70 every day, which is three times higher than the level during the first two years of the franchise, the overall customer experience is particularly poor.

The record of the current franchise holder is simply not good enough. What has been the Scottish Government’s reaction to that record of poor service to the Scottish rail traveller? Just last month, the new Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity granted a temporary waiver, allowing ScotRail to breach previously agreed standards until June 2019. It is not clear why he has done that, and I would have liked him to be in the chamber for the debate, so that he could explain his reasoning to members.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I would love to give way, but I have less than two minutes left.

It seems that the transport secretary would rather blame Network Rail for the failings of the franchise operator. People will be angry that ScotRail is being given an easy ride just because SNP ministers have an intense desire to take control of Network Rail. I noticed that, yesterday, an unnamed Scottish Government spokesperson said:

“We know performance is not where it should be—that is why ministers can and do hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise”.

It does not seem to me or my Liberal Democrat colleagues that granting a waiver to Abellio ScotRail over performance targets until June next year is quite what we would call holding the franchisee to account within the terms of the contract. Instead of giving a waiver to Abellio ScotRail, the Scottish Government should give notice that it will exercise the break clause in the contract at the earliest opportunity. When the next franchise contract is drawn up, the lessons of the current debacle should be learned and stronger financial penalties and sanctions for poor performance should be included, in the interests of passengers.

In the evidence that he gave to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee this morning, Alex Hynes, the managing director of ScotRail, confirmed—after repeatedly refusing to answer questions in a straightforward manner—that the Scottish Government had actually advanced funds to ScotRail ahead of when the money was due. Of course, Mr Hynes would not say how much public money was involved, but it is claimed on

The Scotsman

’s website that the figure is £23 million. If making a £23 million early payment is not rewarding failure, I do not know what is. The Scottish Government’s lack of transparency on taxpayers’ money is simply not acceptable.

I said at the beginning of my speech that focusing on the customer experience is paramount. I think that the customer experience has been forgotten by ministers, and it is about time that they put that at the top of their agenda.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

It used to be skip-stopping that upset my constituents—that was the practice deployed by ScotRail whereby a train would just miss out stops if it was running late. Sometimes, no notice would be given. Someone could be standing at the door ready to get off, only for the train to keep going, with the result that they ended up miles away from home. When skip-stopping was ended, my constituents were delighted. Goodness me—even I was delighted!

Now, the skipping of one or two stops has been replaced by trains skipping every stop because they have been cancelled. Scores of people have been in touch with me about delayed and cancelled trains. I signed up to have the ScotRail alerts sent directly to my email account. The service has been so bad that the alerts have meant hundreds more emails cluttering up my inbox—today, I have received 20 such messages for my local area alone.

The delays have been going on for weeks, but they got much worse from 22 October. The replacement of Bonhill Road bridge was a significant engineering undertaking. Unfortunately, it ran over and morning rail services were all cancelled. There was no contingency plan. The situation was nothing short of chaotic. That accounted for half a day’s disruption, but it does not explain what followed, which was nine consecutive days of disruption. Trains were cancelled or delayed, and some trains stopped, randomly, before the end of the line. One such incident that was relayed to me involved a train from Helensburgh to Edinburgh. It got as far as Dalreoch in Dumbarton, where it waited for an hour, doing nothing, before going backwards to Cardross, where the 78 passengers were just told to get off. You could not make it up. Another constituent has just texted me to tell me that services from Stirling to Glasgow are cancelled right now and that she does not know how she is going to get home on time.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to learn that the level of cancellations was the worst on record. However, those figures relate to the period up to 13 October. Let me make a prediction: the figures will be much worse for the next accounting period if my local experience is anything to go by.

Someone explaining to their employer that they were late because their train was cancelled or delayed is believable once or twice, but saying that it has happened nine days in a row stretches credibility. There have been missed lectures and missed hospital appointments. It has taken four hours to get to Glasgow when it normally takes 30 minutes.

The funniest moment—a sense of humour is needed to deal with this—was when I was told of Japanese tourists in Glasgow Central station taking pictures of the display boards that were showing all the delays. They were doing so because it was clearly a novelty to them—the trains in Japan run on time.

When the trains arrive, there are three carriages instead of six, and commuters get squeezed in like sardines because there is standing room only.

Instead of standing up for passengers, the SNP Government is running for the hills. SNP ministers relax ScotRail’s performance targets. What happens? The service gets worse. SNP ministers give ScotRail more money. What happens? The service gets worse. SNP ministers allow ScotRail to raise prices. What happens? The service gets worse. When will the SNP wake up and understand that it needs to be on the side of commuters. Frankly, my constituents have had enough.

I suggest that ScotRail gives those who have experienced the most cancellations and delays a refund—not one that they need to apply for after the event, but by offering half-price travel, from now up to Christmas, from Helensburgh, Balloch and Dumbarton, and in any other area that has been affected. If ScotRail cannot make the service demonstrably better in the next few weeks, it is time for the franchise to end.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

We can start by saying that we have an extremely good rail network in this country. I have travelled by train in a number of European countries. The networks in cities such as Athens or Rome are much poorer than the network in Glasgow, and our rolling stock is clearly much better than some in Lisbon and St Petersburg. Yes, our railways face challenges, but let us keep them in perspective. In Glasgow, when we combine the 59 train stations and 15 subway stations, we have a total of 74 rail stations.

My favourite means of transport is rail, which is why I head up the cross-party group on rail. On Saturday, I decided that I would do all my travelling by rail, so I left the car at home. I used the train five times and the subway twice. That included a conference in the morning, shopping in the city centre, football in the afternoon, a concert in the evening and getting home. All seven were excellent services that ran on time.

In my constituency, we now have direct links to Edinburgh thanks to the very successful Airdrie to Bathgate line, which was reopened under the SNP. The electrification of the Whifflet line means that more destinations are available from stations in my constituency through Glasgow Central low level and other stations, and now all 11 stations in my constituency are electrified. We recently got a new road bridge over the railway at Baillieston station, which has greatly improved local traffic.

It is true to say that, while that electrification was going on, I got complaints about the noise of pile driving at night. While the bridge was being replaced, local buses were diverted and people were not happy. However, it seems to me that, both locally and nationally, if we are serious about our railways, and if we invest to improve them for the future, it is inevitable that there will be temporary disruption, temporary delays and temporary cancellations.

ScotRail has delays and cancellations, but many of them are outwith its control, as we have heard. Overall, ScotRail gives a good service. At a recent meeting, the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee heard from one academic that we should realise how good ScotRail is compared with Northern, so I looked at the public performance measure figures. In October, 81.2 per cent of ScotRail services arrived within five minutes of their scheduled arrival time, whereas the figure for Northern was 74.3 per cent. In September, ScotRail was at 86.3 per cent, and Northern was at 82.8 per cent. In August, ScotRail was at 90.6 per cent, and Northern was at 82.2 per cent.

In February, I was down in Cardiff for a city break. I think that some of the trains down there could be described as quite quaint, including the one-coach train that goes to Cardiff Bay station, but I reckon that Cardiff would love to have a system that was more like ours. Of course we want improvements, but perhaps we should be positive about some of the good things that we have.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

No—if Labour wants a full debate it should give us a proper two hours, not one hour and 10 minutes.

I am keen on public ownership, in principle. We should not have sold off gas, electricity or public transport, and in an ideal world I would be up for a return to public ownership. However, I do not think that ownership is the only factor. The other week, at the REC committee meeting that I have already mentioned, Lothian Buses, which is widely admired, said that it would make no difference whether it was privately or publicly owned.

As I said, I favour public ownership and it should be possible to make the public sector efficient and customer focused. However, there are risks with it. Politicians can be scared of making difficult decisions, there is a temptation to keep increasing subsidies—which is what happened in the past, during my lifetime—and I remember when we had corporation buses in Glasgow and there were even then disputes and complaints that one area was favoured over another.

Similarly, I remember British Rail, which did not always have a great reputation. It was not seen to be customer focused or ambitious, and its food offering was the butt of many jokes. Again, Network Rail is publicly owned, but it appears to be the cause of a lot of the delays and cancellations. As others have said, and according to the briefing from Abellio, 62 per cent of delay minutes in 2018-19 are Network Rail’s responsibility while 28 per cent are ScotRail’s.

Looking forward, we expect a 10 per cent increase in daily services by the end of 2019—

The Presiding Officer:

Time, please, Mr Mason.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

In conclusion, let us be clear about the reasons for the problems.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

No one could pretend that Scotland’s rail system does not face significant challenges. It does, and Jamie Greene was right to call out the SNP amendment for its naivety and standard buck passing.

Labour’s solution is to strip the operation from the incumbent franchisee and nationalise the railway. Colin Smyth stated that the reason for that was that passengers are fed up with overcrowded, overpriced and unreliable trains. No doubt they are, but let us test whether those problems are solved by the proposal for public ownership.

Mr Smyth says that the trains are overcrowded. That is true, in the central belt and at certain specific times of day. What is the solution? We could put on more rolling stock to make longer sets, but Labour members seem to have forgotten—or perhaps they are not aware—that ScotRail’s fleet is entirely leased, almost exclusively from three main rolling stock companies. Even if the current platforms could accommodate the longer sets, what would be the cost of renting more kit and is that kit even available?

Perhaps we could just run more trains at the specific times, but where would we get track capacity on a system that is pretty much sweated to capacity? The east coast main line has no available space and Glasgow Central station could not handle more or longer trains without significant infrastructure investment. Again, more sets means more rolling stock, which means more leasing cost to the taxpayer. I suppose that the nationalised company could buy the rolling stock to run the services, as I think that John Finnie might have been driving at, but at what cost? If it is not going to do that, it is running exactly the same model as at present, in which case the change of ownership has failed to solve the problem of overcrowding.

What about the idea that the break clause should be exercised because tickets are overpriced? Let us assume, because I am trying to be kind, that Colin Smyth can solve the problem of overcrowding without increasing the amount of rolling stock, so that the running cost is the same. How would a new public owner get the price down? There are three basic ways: hike taxes and hypothecate them to the railway, cannibalise from another budget, such as health or education, or cut investment. I would be interested to hear in closing whether the first two are on the cards, but assuming that they are not Labour appears not to know that the margin on running a railway is only about 2 or 3 per cent.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

Will the member take an intervention on the matter of the train sets?

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Will I have time, Presiding Officer?

The Presiding Officer:

You will not get it back.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I am sorry, Mr Finnie. Perhaps I will take it later.

In brief, a change of ownership will not deliver the price reductions that Labour seeks.

Finally, we hear that the rail service is unreliable. It is a fair point. Passengers are rightly angry about cancellations, delays and breakdowns, but Labour proposes to address that by exercising a break clause and having a nationalised operator. However, a significant reason underlying the delays and cancellations last year was storm Ali. On performance failures, ScotRail suggests that issues with infrastructure, which is the responsibility of the publicly owned Network Rail, account for about 37 per cent. Just how would a nationalised company fix an engine or a set any more quickly than any other company?

Unless Labour proposes to run trains in unsafe conditions in a storm, the fact is that a publicly owned company would have exactly the same reliability figures, overcrowding issues and pricing constraints. By all means, Labour can propose a break clause, but it has to do better than simply leave what happens next hanging and demand nationalisation without even being brave enough to put that in the motion.

We should focus on positive interventions that would actually make a difference to Scotland’s railway, as the amendment in the name of Jamie Greene does, and we should demand that the SNP stop making the excuses that are in its amendment.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. For many months, I have been raising in the chamber my constituents’ concerns over the performance of ScotRail. I am glad that it is a Labour debate that is providing the time for us to say that enough is enough and that it is time for radical change on our railways.

John Mason, a member for Glasgow, made an interesting contribution, but I am disappointed that none of the SNP members from Fife has contributed, because they will have been contacted by the same constituents who regularly contact me with complaints about our train service. Like me, those SNP members will see week in, week out on social media the frustration that commuters have with the service.

The Fife circle is an important service for people who are working, socialising and studying in Edinburgh, and is an important route for those who are travelling onwards and who need to make connections. For over a year, I have been getting complaints about cancellations, delays, station skipping, overcrowding and ticket prices on the service. I have tried to be constructive and find solutions for my constituents. Earlier this year, I held a Facebook Live chat with ScotRail senior management at its head office and put to them my constituents’ questions on overcrowding, cancellations, delays and station skipping. I appreciate the fact that ScotRail agreed to take part in the discussion and I recognise that, following the complaints that I raised, progress was made on station skipping, which had been rife. However, the other promises that were made have not been delivered.

The minister says that we are on the cusp of change, but passengers in Fife have been putting up with overcrowding. The

Dunfermline Press

’s crush hour campaign has been highlighting that uncomfortable and stressful experience.

The fact that those promises have not been delivered is hugely disappointing and frustrating for commuters, who continue to spend significant sums of money and portions of their income on public transport. In a move that could be seen as an attempt to emolliate commuters, a Fife fiver fare was temporarily introduced. I do not begrudge anyone who got the benefit of that, but it applied only at times more limited than off peak and so did not compensate commuters, who had been experiencing the greatest difficulties.

I regularly ask ScotRail for performance figures. The published figures disguise the true experience of commuters who travel at peak times. By focusing on figures for peak times, I found that, between April and September this year, more than 100 peak-time Fife circle services heading to Edinburgh in the morning and coming from Edinburgh in the evening were cancelled. Reports from constituents on social media in recent weeks suggest that this quarter’s figures will be worse. In recent weeks, the service has become increasingly unreliable, with people stranded at stations, often in the cold and dark and with no replacement bus services being provided.

When trains in Fife are cancelled, crew issues are now frequently given as the cause. That is not good enough and is an unfair reflection on the hard work of ScotRail employees. ScotRail needs to urgently resolve the on-going industrial dispute.

Aside from the inconvenience of cancelled and delayed trains, there are other consequences for my constituents. People are late for work and do not always have sympathetic employers. Families are late in collecting their children from childcare, which results in fines and fees. People are now changing their travel arrangements, which is leading to more people wanting to park in Inverkeithing and Kirkcaldy, where there are more trains but not enough capacity for parking. Those decisions increase our carbon footprint, because people are no longer confident of using their local train station and are driving short distances to bigger stations where there are multiple trains.

It feels as if Fife commuters are being short-changed, and I know that many feel that they are receiving a second-class service compared to those in other parts of the central belt. What does the Government do when ScotRail is performing poorly and letting down passengers? It lowers the target and waives the consequences. In opening the debate, Colin Smyth set out how we can take steps to do this better, create rail services that put passengers before profits and end the current contract sooner rather than later and bring our trains back into public ownership. Tonight, let us agree to do that.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Railways require serious scrutiny, but this afternoon’s debate is an exercise in rank hypocrisy from Labour, which was in power for 13 years from 1997 and made no effort whatsoever to return the railways to public ownership.

When Abellio won the ScotRail contract in 2014, Labour insisted that the SNP Government had decided not to include a public sector bid for the service.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

However, under UK legislation, the Scottish Government did not have the power to make such a decision when the 2013 draft franchise was tendered.

We have always opposed restrictions that prevent public sector bids for the ScotRail franchise. Our 2015 Westminster election manifesto stated:

“We believe that public sector organisations should be able to bid to operate rail services, as allowed in EU law but currently prevented by UK legislation.”

Our 2016 manifesto for this Parliament pledged to

“ensure a public sector bid for future rail franchises.”

I am not sure which part of that statement is confusing to Labour or, indeed, the Greens, but let me clear: it was pressure from SNP MPs that led to the power to allow public sector bids for rail franchises being included in the Scotland Act 2016. Once again, Labour is calling on the Scottish Government to do something that, time and again, it has proven itself unwilling to do. When the Railways Bill, which sliced up British Rail into more than 100 companies, was published in 1993, Labour pledged to renationalise the railways on returning to office, yet Tony Blair and his colleagues made no attempt to deliver that promise.

However, why should we dwell on the past? We can see what Labour is doing right now in Wales. In clear contradiction of its 2016 Welsh Assembly manifesto, Labour has awarded the Wales and borders rail franchise to a joint venture by French operator Keolis and Spanish-owned Amey. Mick Cash, the general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said:

RMT is appalled and angry that a Labour administration in Wales would even consider a proposal that mirrors the failed public-private partnership on London Underground which collapsed in total chaos.”

I understand that Mr Bibby was muttering for a minute or two, so I am happy to take an intervention— if he can explain exactly why Labour broke its promise for 13 consecutive years to renationalise the railways and why we should believe it now.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am sorry, Mr Bibby. Your microphone is not on.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Is that the best that he can do? His card is not in. In that case, I can continue.

The Presiding Officer:

We will go back to Mr Gibson.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Here in Scotland, there are performance issues that cause delays and cancellations, which are experienced by many rail users. However, ScotRail is among the best-performing rail operators in the UK. I turn to what Richard Clinnick says in this month’s

Rail magazine about what is happening in England:

“the answer to the mess: run the railways like in Scotland, where track and trains have one Managing Director, and Government decisions are made with customers at heart and by those who know the railway. Problems are tackled head on and usually dealt with quickly. There may be short-term pain, but the result is long-term gain.”

Constituents who travel from my constituency in North Ayrshire have already benefited from significant Scottish Government investment, which has delivered new and additional train services; new rolling stock; investment in stations; a 50 per cent increase in services, with greater connectivity between North Ayrshire’s towns; new class 380 rolling stock that improves passenger comfort with spacious seating, wide aisles, air conditioning, power sockets for laptops, luggage provision, space for cycles and wheelchairs; more park and ride facilities; better waiting facilities; additional closed-circuit television with upgrades—[

Interruption

]. Labour members hate listening to good news. It has also delivered new customer information screens, longer platforms, platform validators for smart cards, and cycle parking. Those things all improve overall passenger experience, and there is 28 per cent more rolling stock.

The SNP Government cannot rest. It is committed to greater improvements and spends twice what the UK Government does per capita on rail services, which shows its commitment.

The Presiding Officer:

It is time, Mr Gibson.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Just to finish, Presiding Officer. ScotRail’s Alex Hynes said today to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that cross-border services delays increased by 80 per cent last year as a result of the shambles that was caused by Govia Thameslink and Northern down south.

I wonder whether Labour, in summing up, will explain how Abellio ScotRail can impact on that.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

What we need is a reliable service, in which people are not interested in who is to blame. That is where our focus should lie—

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Gibson.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

—improving services for the people of Scotland.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Gibson.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. If members are going to quote what they heard at the REC Committee this morning, they would be best to quote what was actually said, not what they want to hear. The quote that 80 per cent of the delays in Scotland are due to cross-border services alone is fundamentally not true; therefore, Kenneth Gibson has misled Parliament. I wonder whether he would care to reconsider what he has just said, because it is not what we were told this morning at the committee.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you. Mr Gibson, please sit down.

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Gibson, please sit down. We are not having a debate through the chair about this. It is a point of order for me. The point of order is not a point of order—it is a point of debate, which the member has made. Let us not extend the point.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

Considering the passion that is being felt in the Parliament today, I wish that Labour had made this debate a little longer.

Scottish commuters and passengers expect a reliable rail service that is punctual and efficient and that delivers value for money. The story that we are hearing today could not be further from that. We all agree that the performance level of ScotRail in the past year has fallen well below expectation, as constituents regularly inform me. In fact, it has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years.

It is not only my constituents lambasting ScotRail—it is a Scotland-wide problem. Although the Borders rail has been a conduit for travel beyond my constituency of Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire—opening up the area to the rest of the rail network—it has not been straightforward and simple. Things are improving, but the Borders rail has been plagued with skip-stopping, late trains, cancellations and a lack of adequate ticket-purchasing machines on the platform. That is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that more than half of Borders railway trains arrive late at Tweedbank. Frankly, that is not good enough and it is not going unnoticed. I get loads of emails and letters from my constituents complaining about the poor service that they have experienced on the line.

Unreliability is only one example of the litany of failures. Winter resilience is paramount, given the geography and rural nature of the line. We need more robust measures put in place to ensure that we have a reliable service during the winter months. Blaming others—or leaves—does not help.

To top all that off, should the train from Edinburgh to Tweedbank be cancelled, there are very few alternatives for reaching my part of the Borders, leaving borderers stranded in the capital.

Rolling stock has been less than satisfactory, with commuters complaining of cold, substandard trains and a lack of carriages at peak times. It has been promised that the refurbished rolling stock will be in place by the December 2019 timetable change, and that is not before time.

Considering all those factors, we can see that the Borders railway falls well short of the high standards that we expect from a modern-day service. Performance and standards should be constantly scrutinised and monitored; however, many people are rightfully concerned about the trajectory on which ScotRail is currently travelling. Recently, Michael Matheson gave ScotRail a free pass, by granting a ministerial waiver of standards and agreeing not to enforce compliance breaches against Abellio until June 2019. He did not inform Parliament of that, and shifting the goalposts is unacceptable to my constituents. Moreover, the economic impact of poor performance is stark. Train delays cost the Scottish economy up to £233,000 a day. Poor performance is not helping local businesses and individuals.

Let me be unequivocal. The Conservatives are not calling for nationalisation, as the Labour motion suggests and as Labour members are talking about. We want greater transparency and accountability; accountability to passengers and staff is absolutely crucial.

Conservative members believe that a public-sector operator taking control of the ScotRail franchise would shift huge risk, potentially costing taxpayers millions of pounds. That increased risk—

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I understand the current costs and that there are fines to be paid, which come at a cost to the taxpayer. However, no cost analysis has been done, which is probably why it has not been specifically mentioned in the Labour motion.

We all know that Scotland needs a competitive structure for the railways that offers affordable fees and a quality service. However, we should not rush into a simplistic or hurried solution as a temporary remedy, as Labour suggests—although Labour’s solution is not really simplistic. Doing that might deliver even poorer results or cost the taxpayer dearly.

I cannot help but mention that we have had many false promises from the SNP Government. I ask Paul Wheelhouse to respond to a question when closing. Did Councillor Parker mention his disappointment about the delay to the investment in and reinstatement of East Linton and Reston stations, which would serve Berwickshire greatly?

The Presiding Officer:

Time, Ms Hamilton.

The Presiding Officer:

I am afraid that nearly every member has gone over time by 10 or 15 seconds. There has also been a point of order. The cumulative effect is that we will not be able to hear Stuart McMillan’s speech. I recognise that that is not fair, but I have little choice. We move to closing speeches.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

It has been an interesting afternoon. It has not been a debate—it has been a statement of political positions—and, because of that, we have done Scotland down.

Let me be clear. The public do not want politics on trains; they want trains that are reliable and on time. I do not believe that the public really care who runs the trains provided that they turn up when they say they are going to turn up, they are clean and tidy, and they work.

This afternoon, the Government has used the debate to promote a form of nationalism. The Government says that if we give it control over Network Rail, everything will be better. There is no evidence that that assertion is correct, but it probably sounds good and allows a bit of flag waving.

Labour Party members have hidden behind their call for the break clause to be triggered without saying what they would do when that happened. To me, that is a true political answer. Although some Labour members spoke about that, they are not bold enough to say what they really think, which is nationalism. I am sorry—I meant to say nationalisation. [

Laughter

.]

Well, the position is the same. One party wants nationalism and the other wants nationalisation. The SNP and the Labour Party have given us two options and neither of them will make the trains run on time.

We need the other option, which is the one that this party proposes—effective management.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

No. I will not take interventions this afternoon. No one else has and I do not have time.

If the SNP believes that this is the best that it can do, after being in charge of the railways for 10 years, it is not good enough. When the break clause is to be triggered, we should discuss it. We should not prejudice it now. We should determine when we discuss it whether ScotRail has measured up.

I have the opportunity to go through and talk about a list of those members who spoke this afternoon, but they just made political points. One member said, “Don’t worry; everything will be all right,” another said, “It’s all Labour’s fault,” and the next one said that it is all about overcrowding and ticket prices. None of that gets us anywhere and we are short of time.

Today’s debate has done the Scottish Parliament no credit, but it has not been easy listening for the SNP Government, nor should it be. The Government has been in charge for 11 years. Under the SNP, ScotRail’s performance is getting worse year after year. Today we heard how the Government had made contract payments early—it is a strange message for the general public to say that we do not get trains to run on time but we will pay the contractor early. I do not think that that is anything to be proud of. What sort of message does that send to the public who travel by rail and pay for a service that they do not get?

I have a clear message for Labour about its idea of breaking the contract and nationalising the industry. I do not think that anyone believes that nationalisation will work, and Liam Kerr gave a good reason why it is just not as easy as that.

We are not clear about what we should be saying, so I want to make it clear what my party is saying. We expect ScotRail and the ScotRail Alliance to be held to account by the Government, which should show management and leadership. It is clearly not doing that at the moment. The patience of rail travellers in Scotland is not without limit and we believe that the Government and ScotRail need to raise their game; if they do not, when it comes to renewing the contract, the Scottish public will give them a stern warning that what they have done is not good enough.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

We have had a lively debate and I acknowledge that many passengers have had frustrating experiences. I take entirely at face value what Claire Baker said. She has good engagement with her local constituents and the Government listens to them.

Our railways play a crucial role in connecting our communities, enabling opportunities and spreading sustainable economic prosperity across the country. However, we could be forgiven for forgetting that ScotRail is the best-performing large train operator in the UK even now. It is performing above the Great Britain average. Indeed, Mr Mountain might want to reflect on the fact that GB performance has been getting worse year after year, and he does not seem to allocate any blame for that to the UK Government.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am sorry. I wish that I could, but I do not have time.

As I set out in my opening remarks, through this Government’s record investment, we are seeing the first steps towards transformational change across the country; the reduction of rail’s carbon footprint; more new trains; an exciting intercity product that delivers what passengers want when travelling between our seven cities; more services and more seats for passengers, including—it is important to stress the point that I made earlier—the roll-out of rolling stock in Fife, the Borders, Glasgow and Inverclyde.

Feedback on the quality of travel experience on the new electric Hitachi trains and the recently introduced refurbished high-speed trains has been extremely encouraging and, when more are in service, existing refurbished trains will be moved across the country to help provide more capacity.

Transform Scotland went as far as to say:

“The ScotRail franchise is delivering the largest tranche of improvements to the railway in Scotland in living memory. Many of the improvements happening now—new electric trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow, proper inter-city trains, improvements to rural services, and a whole host of timetable improvements—are all key demands Transform Scotland had for this franchise.”

The Scottish Government will continue to work closely with ScotRail and its train suppliers and manufacturers to ensure that our requirements are delivered during 2019. All parties are disappointed about the delays in the introduction of the new trains into Scotland and are clear that that is unacceptable.

I should emphasise that, at the start of the contract, we have ensured that the new electric and refurbished high-speed trains have protected contractual rights to remain in Scotland beyond the life of this contract, which will unlock long-term value. That is an important point, because that provides us with the ability to stabilise our Scottish fleet and not be at the mercy of the UK Government model of franchising, which has seen some of our diesel fleet in Scotland depart the country to serve contractual commitments elsewhere.

We recognise that performance is not where it should be, and the system-wide Donovan recommendations that are designed to improve performance on a sustainable basis must be the primary area of focus for Network Rail and ScotRail. It should be recognised that a significant proportion of ScotRail’s performance over this year has been directly impacted by the increase in Network Rail’s infrastructure failures. That is why we have provided assistance to ScotRail, and I am happy to discuss that further with the members who have raised the issue. Currently, Network Rail’s failures account for around 60 per cent of the disruption since the start of the financial year.

Further, there have been unprecedented weather issues, as well as cross-border timetable issues in England, all of which are outwith ScotRail’s direct control. Colin Smyth and his colleagues do the public a disservice if they fail to acknowledge that.

I have set out clearly our position on the sensible rationale to devolve essential railway functions to Scotland, increasing local focus and accountability, and to increase the ability of Scotland’s railways to perform at their best for passengers and businesses alike.

Paul Tetlaw of Transform Scotland said:

“It is now widely acknowledged that the separation of infrastructure from the operation of the trains was a serious mistake and so the creation of the ScotRail Alliance is clearly the right approach and puts Scotland ahead of most of the UK.”

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I do not have time.

Through its recently announced rail review, the UK Government has the opportunity to deliver the full devolution of Network Rail to Scotland, to enable the Scottish Government to structure our railways to meet our needs. It is only right that Network Rail becomes more accountable in that regard.

The Parliament has secured the powers to allow public sector bodies to bid for future Scottish rail franchises—the Labour Party resisted that when it was in office. Alongside our commitment, I repeat that that should be accompanied by a fully devolved infrastructure manager, accountable to this Parliament.

We are committed to the success of the ScotRail franchise and look forward to working with our delivery partners to deliver a resilient and reliable railway for Scotland’s rail passengers.

I commend our amendment to the chamber.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

Today’s debate has laid bare the failure at the heart of Scotland’s railways, and the complete lack of answers from the Scottish Government. Speaker after speaker exposed the way in which the Abellio Scotland franchise is letting down Scotland’s rail passengers. Jackie Baillie highlighted the utter chaos and disruption that is faced by passengers in Dumbarton, and Claire Baker revealed the misery that is being faced by Fife’s commuters, who are receiving a second-class service. Both of those MSPs are standing up for their constituents and for Scotland’s rail passengers. What a contrast to SNP MSPs.

Jackie Baillie and Claire Baker highlighted the real-life examples that bring home the scale of failure and graphically illustrate the fact that performance is now lower in every measure than at any point in this franchise. Reliability is the worst on record. Punctuality targets have not been hit since 2015, and they are now below the franchise breach level. The minister showed today that he either does not know or will not say when ScotRail will hit those targets again, although the Office of Rail and Road tells us that we will have to wait until 2022.

While failing to deliver on performance, ScotRail has racked up almost £10.5 million in fines, and rail passengers are being asked to pay the price of that failure with rising fares for trains that are less punctual, more unreliable and more overcrowded. However, instead of holding ScotRail to account, the Scottish Government is letting it off the hook, striking secret deals and giving it a licence to fail on its franchise responsibilities. Today, we have heard that the Government clearly intends to continue to let ScotRail fail and to let the franchise run until 2025.

Extending the franchise beyond 2022 should not be a given; it needs to be earned. It seems that everybody except the SNP and the Tories believe that Abellio has failed to earn that right. Instead of accepting the failure, member after member from the SNP has rehashed their rehearsed excuses for failure. Kenny Gibson tells us that it is all the fault of Network Rail and its cross-border services. It would be easy for me to repeat the point made by Jamie Greene, that disruption caused by extreme weather is attributed to Network Rail and not to ScotRail’s skewing of the disruption figures, or that Transport Scotland says that failures that are caused by incidents outside Scotland reduce ScotRail’s overall performance by only 0.2 per cent at a time when ScotRail is nearly 5 per cent below target, despite the misleading contribution of Kenny Gibson. I am not going to defend—

The Presiding Officer:

One second, Mr Smyth. Can members keep the conversations down, please?

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I am not going to defend the failings of Network Rail or the cross-border privatised rail companies, both of which are remnants of the current fragmented rail system that I want to see end. Labour’s position is clear: we need to bring those who run our tracks and those who run our trains together as one, under public ownership.

What Kenny Gibson and other SNP MSPs did not say on performance is that one of the key causes for disruption—one of the reasons that was given by ScotRail for plummeting performance in its application to have the performance targets waived—is the fact that it no longer routinely skips stops. In other words, ScotRail cannot hit its targets because—

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I am sorry; I do not have time.

ScotRail cannot hit its targets because it is doing what every passenger expects it to do—stop at the stations that it is supposed to stop at.

As SNP MSPs often do when they cannot defend their Government, Kenny Gibson talked about Wales. He claimed that the Welsh Government chose to award the Wales and Borders franchise to a private operator, rather than take it into private hands. However, Kenny Gibson did not tell us, probably because he does not know, that the Welsh Government does not have the power to set up a public sector bid—[

Interruption

.]

Despite repeated calls from the Labour-led Welsh Government, it does not have the same exemption that we have in Scotland. I can assure Kenny Gibson, who is more concerned about the plans of the Welsh Government than those of his own Government, that Welsh Labour will continue to push for those powers. More important, the Welsh Labour Party, the Scottish Labour Party and the UK Labour Party will continue to push for full nationalisation of our railways. What a shame that the SNP refuses to join us in that campaign.

Mike Rumbles highlighted that the Scottish Government is handing out advance payments to Abellio because failing performance means that it is not making as much cash as it expected. I wonder what the Government’s response would be if our nurses, doctors or teachers all asked for next year’s salary to be brought forward. The financial difficulties that are facing the franchise were also revealed by John Finnie, who exposed the fact that loans are being made to Abellio with interest rates of 8 per cent, ensuring that its parent company makes a tidy profit in loan repayments at the Scottish taxpayers’ expense.

Enough is enough, and it is time to put an end to Scotland’s rip-off railways. We need to end the private rail franchises at the earliest opportunity and bring them under public ownership. That would be not a return to a 20th century model of nationalisation, as the Tories would have us believe, but a modern 21st century vision of public democratic ownership that would put passengers—not profits—first. It is a vision in which workforces would be the managers of change and not its casualties; public services would serve the people not the profiteers; and we would have a joined-up transport system that helped our economy and did not hinder it.

The Parliament can get on board with that vision, we can tell the SNP to stop acting as the cheerleader for failed Tory privatisation and we can unite to fight for a railway system that delivers for passengers and not for the profiteers.