ScotRail Services

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 5 September 2019.

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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 the recent disruption on ScotRail services. (S5F-03513)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The overall reliability of ScotRail services has improved this year—for example, the number of train crew-related cancellations has reduced by 91 per cent. That said, the recent disruption to services, including on the last weekend of the Edinburgh festival, when passengers were significantly inconvenienced as a result of services being overwhelmed by demand, was clearly unacceptable and lessons must be learned from that.

A review by the ScotRail Alliance is under way to identify actions that will strengthen planning for future events.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

In March, the First Minister said that ScotRail’s first remedial plan was “the last chance saloon”. Since then, as the First Minister said, passengers suffered utter chaos at Waverley station on the last day of the Edinburgh festival. Last month’s ScotRail performance figures were the worst for August since the franchise began. We are talking about a franchise that has been breached by ScotRail three times on the First Minister’s watch. It is no wonder that 79 per cent of Scottish National Party voters want ScotRail to be returned to public ownership.

It is now time for the First Minister to make a decision. This month, the Government must begin the process of deciding whether to renew the Abellio franchise until 2025 or to stand up for passengers and agree to bring it to an end at its first expiry date in 2022. Which will it be, First Minister? Will you end this failing franchise at the earliest opportunity—yes or no?

The First Minister:

First, we will continue to work with ScotRail to make sure that, where improvements need to be made, they are made. That is first and foremost in the interests of the travelling public.

Secondly, we will take decisions about the future of the franchise in an orderly and responsible manner, and we will update Parliament as we take those decisions.

However, although Labour has talked about public ownership and public control of the railways, it has been the Scottish Government that has acted. We acted to bring to the Scottish Parliament the powers—the most recent Labour Government blocked this for years—that mean that we now have the ability to consider public sector bids for the franchise. As I said, Labour blocked that step forward for years.

When it comes to nationalisation of the railways, the Parliament still does not have the powers that would allow us to do that. Before we get much further into a discussion about the matter, I invite Labour to say whether it wants to join us in calling for all the powers over rail to be devolved to this Parliament so that that discussion becomes meaningful rather than abstract. I think that I am still waiting for an answer to that question from Labour.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

Can the First Minister give an indication of what proportion of train delays are attributable to Network Rail? Does she agree that, as I have said previously in the chamber, Colin Smyth and his colleagues might want to heed the advice of their former transport minister and support our request for the functions of Network Rail to be devolved so that it, too, is answerable to the Scottish Government?

The First Minister:

Richard Lyle raises a really important point, which I know that the other parties do not want to address. Where problems—there are plenty of them—are the responsibility of ScotRail, we need to deal with that and resolve those problems. That is our responsibility, and we take it seriously.

However, over the past few months, more than half of all delays on the ScotRail network have been the responsibility of Network Rail, which does not report to me or to the transport minister in this Parliament; it reports to the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Transport. If we are to have the same ability to resolve problems with Network Rail that we have with ScotRail, we need to make sure that all the powers in question lie with this Parliament. I do not know why Opposition parties would continue to oppose that. When we have that ability, we can have more meaningful discussions about the long-term future and ownership of the railway network.

I say again to Labour: it is an open door; come with us and we will go together to the Tories at Westminster to demand that powers for railways be completely devolved to this Parliament.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

It is a shame that the First Minister was not at the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee yesterday, where she would have learned that the managing director of ScotRail already has the additional devolved powers that she has been calling for. If she had been there, maybe she would have reflected on her answer before responding to Mr Lyle.

Given that the incidents that were experienced by ScotRail passengers in Edinburgh over the summer were a disgrace, is it not the case that the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity should take responsibility for ensuring that there is greater co-operation between the rail companies, the police and the local authorities when managing big events? It is his responsibility to ensure that it does not happen again.

The First Minister:

Of course we take responsibility for ensuring that. We work with ScotRail to ensure that passengers are not let down in the way that I agree they were at the end of the Edinburgh festival. However, it is simply a statement of fact that Network Rail reports to UK ministers and not to ministers in this Parliament. It would make sense to have those powers fully joined up.

On the member’s first comment, I am happy to come to his committee and talk about those or any other matters, any time that he wants to invite me—there you go.

The Presiding Officer:

On that consensual note, we conclude First Minister’s question time.

12:47 On resuming—