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Transport (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 10th October 2019.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

At committee stage and in the Parliament, the bill’s passage has been a marathon. I wonder what we have ended up with.

I thank the committee’s convener and the committee for their incredibly hard work. I also thank Colin Smyth and Jamie Greene for championing the cause against the workplace parking levy.

There are things in the bill that I agree with—for example, municipal bus ownership and the importance of improving air quality. I would have liked my amendments at stage 2 to have been accepted. They included amendments on the extension of half fares on buses and trains to 16 and 17-year-olds, but that was not to be.

My most serious concern about the bill is the lack of scrutiny of some provisions. That has exercised me, and we will be the poorer for it. It was a mistake in respect of the reputation of Parliament. It might also have consequences for some of the provisions. Two members’ bills have been made into one piece of legislation—for one of which no stage 1 evidence was taken, and with only a few weeks to hear evidence at stage 2.

There is a completely new section on the workplace parking levy. That is an unfortunate precedent; I appeal to ministers not to allow it to happen again. There will also be consequences of both the issues that I raised earlier in relation to keeper liability. I will not cover all the points that I made previously on exemptions to the workplace parking levy, which is a tax that is designed to get people out of their cars. The inconsistency in exempting national health service workers but not police officers is extraordinary. The inconsistency in having a national anti-poverty strategy but not exempting the people whom we are trying to help is beyond me.

I do not think that due regard has been given to shift workers or women workers. The evidence shows that women will probably fare worse from a workplace parking levy being introduced. Helen Martin from the Scottish Trades Union Congress said in evidence:

“As a working mother ... I was always chasing my tail; I was always working through my lunch ... The idea of suddenly adding in a train journey or getting a train ... and then a bus would have been untenable for me.”—[

Official Report

,

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee

, 29 May 2019; c 13.]

I would like to hear some clarification from the minister at the end of the debate. I have asked him about this before. Will money that is raised by local authorities be ring fenced for public transport projects? I think that the minister said that it would be ring fenced for public transport strategies. As I have said previously, I would have had at least some respect for the policy if the money that is raised was to be ring fenced.

In the case of Glasgow, it will be decades before we have a transport system that is really fit for application of a workplace levy. In previous forums I used the example of a constituent of mine who cannot get a bus from the Queen Elizabeth university hospital at 6 o’clock at night, after visiting her daughter, to go home to the south side of Glasgow. That is the state of the public transport system in Glasgow—it is not ready, and there are not choices for people.

Even Sustrans Scotland came to the committee and said that there should be exemptions for low-paid workers from the levy. But not this Scottish Government—it does not think that there should be exemptions for low-paid workers. The levy is a tax on workers.

I do not think that local authorities are likely to make any further exemptions, because they have been advised to make the scheme a simplified scheme.

The Parliament will regret putting the keeper liability provision in the bill. There will be casualties from that, because we did not scrutinise that provision properly, I am sad to say.