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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 Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I, too, place on record my thanks to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, its clerks and assistants, the many stakeholders who gave their views on the bill, the Parliament’s legislation team for its outstanding work, and the cabinet secretary’s staff, who discussed a number of issues with me and my team.

The bill was an opportunity to transform our transport system and to lay the groundwork for the greener, fairer and more accessible transport system that we need. However, in many ways, the bill has been a missed opportunity. The proposals on low-emission zones introduce a much-needed framework that will contribute to meeting our climate change aims, and they are very welcome. However, given that the bill will shape LEZs for the foreseeable future, it needs to be fit for purpose, and the final proposals, in my view, are not.

The bill provided the Scottish Government with a chance to move forward with its commitment in the programme for government to

“make the transformative shift to zero or ultra-low emission city centres by 2030”.

However, the Scottish National Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted down an amendment in my name that would have allowed for the creation of ultra-low-emission zones. It is therefore hard to see the pledge in the programme for government as anything other than empty words. The grace period that the bill sets out fails to recognise the urgency of our climate crisis and means that LEZs might not be fully up and running for six years after they are introduced. It might be a climate emergency when it comes to the Government’s rhetoric, but it is certainly not an emergency when it comes to its actions.

The bill is a missed opportunity to deliver a more equal Scotland. I attempted to amend the bill to require bus service improvement plans and franchises to meet the needs of people who are living in poverty and those with protected characteristics. I also sought to ensure that companies that receive taxpayers’ money to provide services make those services open to all, by providing information in accessible formats on request, such as bus timetables in Braille for the blind. I also tried to ensure that drivers would be required to undergo regular disability awareness training. All those measures are entirely within the powers of the Parliament but, shamefully, they were voted down by the SNP and the Tories, which was a real betrayal of disabled people.

The ban on pavement parking is welcome, but it could have been stronger. Parking on pavements is not just a nuisance; it is a hazard. My proposal to move the exemption regarding deliveries from primary to secondary legislation would have closed a potential loophole in the ban by making it easier to adjust if required.

The failure of the SNP and the Tories to support my amendment to close a loophole that still allows parking in cycle lanes has rightly been described by Cycling UK in Scotland as “a squandered opportunity”. No wonder the Government’s record on promoting cycling in Scotland remains so woeful.

The one area in which we have seen progress since stage 1 is bus ownership. The bill originally tinkered around the edges of our failed deregulated system. My amendment to the bill at stage 2 brought an end to the ban on councils setting up local bus companies, giving councils the power to help end the dismantling of lifeline bus routes and put a stop to rip-off fares. I welcome the Government’s support for that move through its amendment at stage 3. I also pay tribute to everyone who has so successfully campaigned for the measure: our trade unions, such as Unite; the Scottish Co-op Party; Get Glasgow Moving; Friends of the Earth; and colleagues such as lain Gray, who previously proposed a member’s bill with the aim of lifting the ban.

However, if we want such a power to become a reality, and if we are serious about improving our environment, we must provide support for our councils to establish municipal bus services and invest in public transport—and not keep cutting the council budgets that are needed to make such investment.

What will not protect our environment is the ill-thought-out, short-sighted workplace parking levy. The fact that the SNP and the Greens voted against exempting electric vehicles and exempting people who live in poverty from that attack on workers shows that it has nothing to do with emission lowering and everything to do with revenue raising. However, that sticking plaster will not cover the gaping wound in local council budgets. It is no wonder that every trade union is opposed to the workplace parking levy. Labour makes no apology for being on the side of workers and making it clear that it cannot and will not support it.