ScotRail (Franchise Obligations)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 29th November 2018.

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Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to reports that ScotRail has failed to fully deliver 29 franchise obligations. (S5F-02834)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Colin Smyth refers to committed obligations, but he does not mention that, of the 272 obligations in total, ScotRail has already delivered 128, with a further 115 on track for delivery by their due date. Of the remaining obligations, 14 are overdue and we expect most of those to be achieved in 2019, and 15 are categorised as having a challenging delivery date. Transport Scotland is working closely with ScotRail to ensure delivery of all committed obligations, which will deliver passenger benefits across the network. With a programme of such scale, it is normal for some delivery outcomes to change, but the focus when managing such changes is always the best interests of the passenger.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

It is disappointing that the First Minister seems dismissive of the fact that ScotRail is not delivering important obligations to fully improve journey times, integrated ticketing and station investment. Those things are clearly not important to the First Minister. ScotRail is failing not just on those 29 franchise obligations; punctuality has plummeted to a new low, with almost one in five trains running late. Passengers are sick and tired, and they deserve better. So far, the First Minister’s response has been to give ScotRail a free pass to breach its public performance monitoring—PPM—benchmarks and to team up with the Tories to block Labour’s plan to end this failing franchise. How bad does it have to get before the First Minister will take meaningful action? If the First Minister will not end this failing franchise, can she answer this straightforward question: does she honestly believe that ScotRail will hit its 92.5 per cent PPM target—yes or no? If her answer is yes, when will that happen?

The First Minister:

I was not dismissive; I gave the member the full facts in response to the question that he asked. Some of those facts were probably inconvenient for the question that he wanted to follow up with, but that is not my worry. As I said, 14 of the 29 obligations are listed as overdue but we expect most of those to be achieved in 2019. Of the 15 obligations for which the delivery date is considered challenging, most have the potential to be achieved in the first part of 2019.

On the wider issues of delays that he talked about, we deeply regret any inconvenience to passengers. Around half—sometimes more than half—of all delays on the ScotRail network are the responsibility of Network Rail. As I have said many times in the past, Network Rail is not the responsibility of this Parliament, although I look forward to getting the support of Labour members to make it the responsibility of this Parliament. I am sure that Colin Smyth is aware that, just this morning, the Office of Rail and Road took formal action against Network Rail to deliver improved performance and confirmed that ScotRail’s performance in 2018-19 has been impacted by severe weather. That lies behind many of the delays that we have seen. We are working with ScotRail to improve performance so that the PPM target is met.

On the issue of the franchise, this Government, having won the powers—powers that Labour refused to give to this Parliament when it was in Government at Westminster—took action to ensure that, for the first time, there can be a public sector bid for the next franchise. If Colin Smyth wants us to go further, I invite Labour to join us in supporting a call for the full devolution of powers over rail so that full nationalisation could be an option. Right now it is not, because Labour continues to block those powers coming to the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

The First Minister thinks that Network Rail is the cause of the majority of delays. What does the First Minister say to passengers who were on the Waverley to Helensburgh service on Monday, who were left stuck at Uphall station when their train decoupled, leaving three carriages stranded at the station? Does the First Minister know why that incident happened? Can she reassure the travelling public that nobody in Scotland will be left behind on Scotland’s railways?

The First Minister:

I understand that the particular incident that the member raises is currently being investigated by the Office of Rail and Road. That is the appropriate action to take. I am not claiming that half of the delays are down to Network Rail; that is a fact. If all members across the chamber came together and demanded the devolution of Network Rail, we could have full, integrated responsibility and we would be able to do even more to improve performance on our railways. I would be delighted to have the support of the Tories and Labour in making that move.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

The latest ScotRail performance statistics show that three in four trains on the Milngavie line are late or cancelled. Does the First Minister believe that ScotRail is fulfilling its obligations to passengers on a line on which they cannot get three out of four trains reliably?

The First Minister:

The Donovan review—which I am sure the member is aware of—is looking at particular, specific actions to deal with issues on that line. However, I do not think that that performance level is acceptable for passengers. That is why we are working with ScotRail and have set stringent expectations that it will take action to improve performance and the passenger experience.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will move to members’ business.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. At First Minister’s question time last Thursday, a Scottish National Party member caused unnecessary concern about nuclear safety events at Faslane in relation to our United Kingdom submarine fleet by placing a political spin on the facts, which produced an inaccurate picture—[

Interruption

.]

The Presiding Officer:

Order. Let us hear the member.

Photo of Maurice Corry Maurice Corry Conservative

That has caused alarm for our armed forces servicemen and women who serve in the UK submarine fleet and keep the UK safe. As the fleet moves in total to Faslane, we hope that the families of servicemen and women will join them to live in Scotland. We must support our UK submarine fleet crews and families, and we must not make inaccurate statements in the chamber.

The Presiding Officer:

Mr Corry’s point is similar to the point that Ms Baillie raised last week. It is a political point in response to a political opinion. All members are allowed to make such a point, but it is not a point of order.

Before we move to members’ business, we will have a short suspension to allow the public gallery to clear and to allow members and ministers to change seats.

12:46 Meeting suspended.

12:48 On resuming—