Transport

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th July 2020.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a statement by Michael Matheson on transport. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I will provide Parliament with an update on the Government’s transport transition planning as we move through phase 3 of “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis” and our Covid-19 lockdown exit strategy.

Once again, I start by giving my thanks to our dedicated transport workers for their professionalism and commitment, and to the people of Scotland for the prudent and conscientious approach that they have adopted in their travel behaviours during the pandemic.

The overarching focus of our work throughout the crisis has been to provide a safe transport system that meets the needs of the country and keeps Scotland moving, while continuing to suppress the Covid-19 virus. That is why we have provided unprecedented levels of financial support to assist our public transport system in continuing to operate. We have committed a total of £321 million to support all modes of public transport, which includes supporting our rail network with £231 million, light rail with £9 million, and the bus industry with additional funding of £46.7 million to support increased service levels. We have also provided financial support to our ferry operators through existing contract mechanisms.

There has been a tremendous response from local authorities and other public bodies to the £30 million spaces for people fund. I am pleased to report that an ambitious programme—[

Inaudible.

]—exceeding the £30 million fund. However, we have identified an additional £3.4 million pounds from the active travel budget, and we are considering options to repurpose more funds to ensure that all eligible applicants can receive funding.

As we look forward, I will outline some aspects of our transport transition plan in phase 3, which allows many more people to return to work and travel for tourism and hospitality. Although there is a degree of uncertainty in any analysis, our estimates—[

Inaudible.

]

—as we are currently experiencing, up to around one million across all modes.

With 2m physical distancing, there is potential for there to be overcrowding on public transport, in particular at peak times. Last week, therefore, an exception was granted to enable the public transport sector to operate with reduced physical distancing of 1m, provided that the operator carries out a risk assessment and appropriate mitigation measures are put in place. This will help to increase capacity.

We continue to work with local authorities in the Glasgow and Edinburgh city regions, given the reliance on public transport in those areas, to help them develop—[

Inaudible.

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—for the months ahead, as well as engaging closely with island authorities, which rely more heavily on our ferry network.

We are still encouraging people to stay local for work; to continue to work from home if possible; to walk, wheel or cycle; and to continue to adhere to all travel guidance. In that context, we are working with a range of transport providers to deliver a travel demand management programme as we move through the phases of the route map. That work is based on analysis of transport trends data and will allow us to tailor our messages to specific target groups.

We are working with partners such as Traffic Scotland, Traveline Scotland, ScotRail, bus and ferry operators and active travel partners to ensure that there is a co-ordinated approach in delivering those messages to the travelling public. We are encouraging people to make use of live information from the network to help them plan their journeys and avoid busy times and services.

Focusing on the busiest areas, we are engaging with employers—as I did on my recent visit to Scottish Power—to offer them travel demand workshops, which will enable them to better support their employees as they return to work

I have spoken about our funding support for bus operators. Today, in the context of our regional planning, I am announcing a new bus priority rapid deployment fund, which will support local authorities to respond to the challenges of reduced public transport capacity and increase the effectiveness of the capacity that is available. The £10 million fund will involve light-touch processes to allow local authorities, working with bus operators, to quickly put in place measures where demand could potentially exceed capacity and where congestion could reduce effectiveness. Bus priority measures can address congestion issues by making bus journeys more attractive, which in turn leads to modal shift from car and—[

Inaudible.

]—improving air quality.

We all want our air quality to be the best that it can be. However, air quality remains an issue for the oldest and youngest people in our society and for those with existing health conditions, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is critical that low-emission zones are introduced in our four biggest cities as quickly as possible.

We are making available £8.8 million of funding for bus and coach operators to reduce emissions through the bus emissions abatement retrofit scheme, which—[

Inaudible.

]—improved grant thresholds for operators. That funding will continue to help support our ambition to protect public health and to improve our air quality.

The easing of restrictions in phase 3 applies equally to travel to and within our islands. I know that there have been concerns about capacity restrictions that create challenges on particularly busy routes, such as those to Arran and Mull. I am pleased to report that in recent weeks there has been positive progress. We have been working with local authorities and key ferry stakeholder groups, and with CalMac and Serco NorthLink, which have both taken steps to increase capacity to help support island economies and offer the opportunity for travel to and from the mainland. CalMac has brought forward a move to two-vessel services on key routes and put in place additional or larger vessels on particular routes, and Serco NorthLink has increased the number of sailings across the Pentland Firth to three per day.

During the transition period, it has been necessary to manage the booking system closely to balance the needs of all travellers. However, I am pleased to confirm that both CalMac and NorthLink services will be available to book as normal for the remainder of the season.

Covid-19 has had a massive impact on the aviation industry globally. As demand for travel has collapsed, airlines have had to reduce their operations, which has in turn had a knock-on effect on airports, handling companies and many ancillary services.

As travel restrictions ease, airlines are slowly restarting routes. In 2019, Scotland was better connected to the rest of the world than ever before, and our ambition is to help Scotland’s airports to restore connectivity as quickly as possible.?

This is a problem for the aviation—[

Inaudible

.]—worldwide, and Scotland is one part of a global industry in which competition is intense. However, we have a strong track record in helping airports to improve connectivity, and a solid base on which to build. We will continue to focus on routes that are important for business and tourism, with a particular focus on winning back key north American—[

Inaudible.

]—for summer 2021.? We will do all that we can to help airports to return to normal levels of operation, as that will lead to the reinstatement of many of the jobs that have been lost as a result of the pandemic.

As we transition into—[

Inaudible

.]—our aim is to build confidence in the safety and security of our public transport system, both for the people of Scotland and for visitors—[

Inaudible.

]—to support our economic recovery.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, cabinet secretary. The sound was very bad, so it may be that members did not pick up everything that you said. As members ask questions, that may become apparent. You are also not looking too great, cabinet secretary, so we will turn off your camera and see if that improves the sound at all.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement and I add my thanks for the hard work of transport workers across Scotland who have helped to keep the country moving during the crisis.

With schools due to start back in less than four weeks, a number of parents have voiced concerns that there might be insufficient capacity in the school bus network and other forms of school transport to take their children back to school. Can the cabinet secretary provide his personal assurance to parents that there will be sufficient capacity to take children back to school when schools reopen and that no children will be left behind?

In relation to the on-going quarantine measures that have been imposed on travel to Spain, thousands of Scottish holidaymakers have unfortunately had their holiday plans cancelled due to the Scottish Government’s decision to impose these measures and travel bodies such as the Scottish Tourism Alliance have also described the decision as “a blow” to inward-bound tourism from Spain. Why was the decision made to introduce quarantine for the whole of Spain, making no allowance for areas with low coronavirus levels? When will those quarantine measures be reviewed?

Finally, with respect to the aviation sector, as the cabinet secretary touched on, in correspondence between us he said that it might take five years for connectivity in Scotland to recover to pre-Covid levels. Given the scale of the disruption, what specific measures is the cabinet secretary taking to make sure that connectivity in Scotland can recover before that?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I will deal with each of those issues in turn, starting with the school transport issue. I do not know whether Mr Lockhart is aware of this, but lead responsibility on school transport sits with the education portfolio. My colleague the Deputy First Minister is taking forward a body of work on issues relating to school transport for when the schools return in August.

Mr Lockhart will also be aware that the First Minister has indicated that the Scottish Government’s scientific advisers have provided some specific advice in relation to school transport; there is not a requirement for physical distancing on school transport itself. My officials are engaged with colleagues in the education sector to offer any support that we can, but the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills will set out in more detail how some of the issues around school transport will be addressed prior to schools returning.

The decision to implement quarantine restrictions for those who travel to Spain was based on the data that was available from the Spanish authorities on the prevalence of Covid-19 in Spain as a whole. Subsequently, we asked them for further details on regional variations in order to consider whether a regional approach could be taken to lifting those restrictions. That matter is being actively considered at the present time. The undertaking of that assessment depends on the Spanish authorities providing accurate data. Any decision on quarantine will be made on public health grounds to ensure that we protect public health in Scotland as effectively as possible.

The aviation sector in Scotland is being impacted by the worldwide—[

Inaudible

.]—in the downturn of aviation. The challenge that we will face is an increasing level of competition for direct routes, with fewer aircraft being available for those routes as airlines downsize their overall operations. It could therefore take several years for us to recover some of the loss of capacity that is being experienced in the aviation industry overall.

We have a very strong track record in attracting direct routes into Scotland and into global hubs, and we will continue to work in support of the aviation sector, the wider tourism sector and the economic sector—[

Inaudible

.]—in the months and years ahead. Given the very strong track record that we have in the area, I am determined to ensure that we drive that forward in the weeks and months ahead. That is why we are engaging with the aviation sector on how we can best do that.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I thank the cabinet secretary for the advance sight of his statement, and I add my thanks to Scotland’s transport workers.

The Government’s own travel trend data shows that, although car use is up by a third since last year, bus, rail, ferry and air journeys are down massively, and even walking and cycling levels have fallen from their already low levels. It is therefore disappointing that the cabinet secretary has not committed any extra overall funding to active travel but has merely cut funding for permanent active travel schemes to pay for temporary ones. I am also disappointed that there is still no sectoral help for civil aviation, despite the Fraser of Allander institute report for Unite the union that warns that 5,000 jobs are at risk.

I want to ask the cabinet secretary about the funding that he has announced today, primarily for bus services. No conditions were attached to previous funding, so we are seeing bus routes being axed by bus operators across Scotland. What conditions will be attached to the funding that has been announced today for buses to stop operators cutting services? Can that funding be used by councils for school transport—specifically, not school transport buses but service buses that are used by thousands of Scotland’s schoolkids who are entitled to free travel and do not go on school transport but go on those buses to get to school?

Finally, when will the cabinet secretary give councils the powers that are set out in the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019 to run their own bus services for the benefit of their communities and stop the cutting of bus routes that we are seeing at present?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

It would, of course, be inaccurate to suggest that the Scottish Government has not increased its active travel funding. Colin Smyth will be aware that, in this year’s budget, we have provided a record level of funding for active travel of over £100 million. Alongside that, we have provided an additional £15 million directly to local authorities. That provides them with around £23.5 million in total for active travel initiatives on their own alongside the additional funding that the Scottish Government is making available for active travel infrastructure.

Mr Smyth referred specifically to the funding that I have announced today. That will not be provided to bus operators; it is funding for bus prioritisation that will be provided to local authorities in order to put the infrastructure arrangements in place in areas that they see as being key to helping to improve bus connectivity where traffic congestion can have an impact on the quality and reliability of services.

The funding of an additional £10 million that I have announced for rapid deployment and fast prioritisation is specifically for local authorities to put those arrangements in place. That will be driven by the local view, so local authorities will determine the best way for that resource to be deployed in their local area. I know from the engagement that we have had to date with COSLA and several local authorities that they already have significant plans for how to improve bus prioritisation. That will assist people who make use of buses, as there will be more reliable services and congestion issues that impact on services will be tackled.

On the final point on issues to do with the Transport (Scotland) Act 2019, the member will be well aware of the significant demands that have been placed on local authority staff in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government has had to pivot its resources towards dealing with the pandemic, and local authorities have had to do the same. The measures that we are taking forward are policies on which we are working in partnership with local authorities in the effort to manage the demands on us all. At present, local authorities are not demanding the right to run bus services, given the competing demands that they have. However, I have no doubt that that issue can be revisited as we go forward and when local authorities have better capacity to deal with more issues.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to open questions. The session is becoming very difficult because of sound issues, so I request that members ask short questions and that there are short answers. I am sure that the cabinet secretary will be willing to follow up in writing with more information.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary provide an update on compliance with compulsory face coverings on public transport and on how public transport capacity now compares with that of pre-Covid levels, particularly in my region, South Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

On 22 June, when we introduced the provision for mandatory face coverings on public transport, compliance levels were initially around 10 per cent. Now, however, we often see compliance levels of up to 90 per cent and sometimes beyond. There are variations at times, and, where they demonstrate a lack of adherence to the provision on wearing masks, transport operators are taking proactive action to address that.

On Ms Harper’s second point, capacity on our rail network is at 60 per cent and will increase further in early August, ahead of the schools returning, to provide about 70 per cent of seating capacity. On buses, operators are now up to 70 per cent of their normal service provision, but some are up to 90 per cent. Most of them expect to be up to 100 per cent of service provision by the beginning of August.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

It would appear from the cabinet secretary’s statement that the full amount of Barnett consequentials—£448 million—coming to the Scottish Government as a result of UK Government spending on transport will not be spent on the transport sector in Scotland. Can you confirm whether that is the case? If so, why is that not being spent on transport in Scotland?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

We continue to have dialogue with the UK Government in order to get clarity on the Barnett consequentials. My colleague Kate Forbes has pursued that issue with the Treasury because of its lack of clarity on the areas, including transport in Scotland, for which specific Barnett consequentials will be provided. For example, more than £1 billion was provided to Transport for London but, as yet, the Treasury has not clarified whether there will be Barnett consequentials for Scotland from that funding.

I assure Mr Lindhurst that we are continuing to pursue the UK Government for clarity on the Barnett consequentials for transport. To date, the Treasury has not provided full transparency on the detail.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

Does the cabinet secretary agree that there should be engagement with charities such as the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which is currently promoting a coronavirus courtesy code to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged by changes to street layouts that are put in place to encourage active travel?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Mr Adam has raised an important issue. The RNIB policy document has been shared with Transport Scotland officials and the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland, which has provided bespoke specific guidance for local authorities on the spaces for people initiative. We continue to engage with third sector organisations, such as the RNIB, to address any concerns and to ensure that local authorities that introduce new active travel infrastructure through the spaces for people initiative take full account of the accessibility needs of people who have disabilities, including visual or partial sight problems.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Unite the union told a cross-party group of members yesterday that there was an impending disaster for the aviation industry if the Scottish Government does not have a short and medium-term plan to help it with job cuts, which it faces on a scale never seen before. Will the cabinet secretary meet urgently with Unite the union, the GMB and other relevant unions? Will he address something that was not in today’s statement: a sector-specific plan to save all of Scotland’s airports?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Pauline McNeill raises a very important issue that is well recognised by me and the wider Scottish Government. There has already been extensive discussion with the aviation sector in Scotland about the challenges that it faces. The difficulties are linked to the global downturn that is affecting the aviation sector across the globe, so any action in Scotland has to focus on areas where we are able to influence change. Our work to develop an aviation sector recovery plan focuses on identifying routes that can be re-established to increase sector capacity. The trade union sector is involved in that— officials have already had engagement and ministers will engage with the unions as we develop the recovery plan.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I thank the cabinet secretary for his announcement of changes to the bus emissions abatement retrofit scheme, which I welcome. Looking to the longer term and the green recovery that we want, will hydrogen have a long-term future as part of the fuel for buses, lorries, trains and ferries?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The opportunity to use hydrogen in the bus industry is already being tested in north-east Scotland, in Aberdeen, and also in Dundee, through a Scottish Government-supported initiative. We are also working to develop a hydrogen accelerator programme in partnership with academia and industry in Scotland, further details of which we will set out in the weeks ahead.

The member will also be aware of our recent announcement of the energy transition plan, which we are supporting in the north-east of Scotland. We are investing an additional £62 million in a range of initiatives to support the transition from a hydrocarbon-based economy in the north-east of Scotland to one that is based on sustainable new technologies. That includes the provision of a specific level of funding for hydrogen. Therefore, I assure the member that we continue to actively support exploration of the potential for greater use to be made of hydrogen, particularly in the haulage and bus sectors of the heavy road industry, and we will continue to work with partners to develop technology in that area in the years ahead.

Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

The cabinet secretary rightly talked about the success of the spaces for people scheme and announced that an additional £3.4 million is to be allocated to it from the active travel budget. He also advised us that he is considering options to repurpose active travel money. Once again, the active travel budget is to be raided.

Will sums of money be “repurposed” from the massive roads budget to more sustainable modes of transport?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As I am sure that I have said when the issue has been raised previously in Parliament, the money that is being used for the spaces for people programme through the active travel budget is funding that cannot be spent in this financial year because of the challenges that the pandemic has presented. Therefore, we are utilising the money to support local authorities to help the public to use active travel as an option during the pandemic.

I assure Mr Finnie that the Scottish Government remains committed to continuing to sustain our record investment in active travel in the future.

I also assure Mr Finnie that we are deploying any underspends in capital spending programmes, such as road building programmes, to other areas where they can be better deployed. He should be assured that we have a long-standing on-going commitment to making sure that we best utilise the record investment that we are putting into active travel.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I will let the session run on a wee bit, because I am anxious that the remaining four members get to ask their questions. However, I ask people to be as succinct as possible.

Photo of Beatrice Wishart Beatrice Wishart Liberal Democrat

Island holiday accommodation providers have been advised that, if a visitor is suspected of having come into contact with Covid while staying with them, the visitor should return home to isolate and, in doing so, should avoid the use of public transport. How has that travel plan been island proofed? Has the cabinet secretary had any conversations with ferry and air travel operators in the islands about what the process would be for those people who need to get home from Shetland to isolate?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

The clinical advice is that anyone on an island who is diagnosed as having Covid-19 or who suspects that they might have Covid-19 should not make use of public transport. That is the case on the mainland as well as on the islands.

According to the guidance that has been issued by the Scottish Government, any individual who, on undergoing a test, is confirmed as having Covid-19 should take the advice of the health professionals who advise them on what action they should then take. Therefore, they might have to remain in the accommodation that they are renting on the island, or alternative accommodation might have to be identified. If that is the case, the local authority, working in partnership with the health authorities, will seek to identify potential alternative accommodation.

Advice and guidance on the matter has already been issued, and it is extremely important that anyone who travels to our islands complies with the guidance in the event that they are diagnosed as having Covid-19.

Photo of Alasdair Allan Alasdair Allan Scottish National Party

Is the cabinet secretary able to indicate what can be done to keep ferry capacity in the Western Isles at a level at which it can continue to cope with the demands of islanders and tourists over the coming weeks, and to ensure that the CalMac online booking service is able to give an accurate picture of when sailings are and are not full?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

As a result of moving to 1m physical distancing on our ferry network, capacity has increased significantly on routes to Dr Allan’s constituency, routes to the rest of the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service network and routes to the northern isles.

As it stands, CalMac has advised us that it has capacity on all its routes, including at peak times on the busiest days. There continues to be additional capacity available on the network beyond the current demand and for the forward bookings that can now be made.

To assist islanders in particular, and the tourism industry on our islands, the booking system has moved from four-week booking to booking slots being made available for the extended season. That gives travellers and islanders greater certainty when it comes to booking seats. In addition, CalMac and NorthLink Ferries are holding back a quantum of tickets on each sailing in order to meet any unexpected on-day demand. In particular, that is for islander residents who may have to leave or return to their island at short notice.

Photo of Peter Chapman Peter Chapman Conservative

I welcome the extra money that was announced today to support bus companies. However, coach companies, which are all about holiday tours and local travel for private groups, have had little support, and they have either collapsed or are close to collapse and desperately need help. Can the cabinet secretary give us any hope that there is some support for them?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I recognise the challenges that the coach sector faces, which is largely because of the downturn in the tourism industry. Coach companies can apply for the wider package of measures that is available for businesses that are being adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. They can also apply to the retrofit programme funding, should they consider that to be necessary for their vehicles.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

As the cabinet secretary is aware, the announced relaxation in the 2m physical distancing rule for public transport was accompanied by a non-exhaustive list of possible mitigations. How are such mitigations working in practice? How has the cabinet secretary worked with stakeholders to put them in place?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

Although public transport operators have been given an exception to move from 2m to 1m physical distancing, they can do so only once they have completed the necessary risk assessments. They must engage with their staff and the trade unions before they apply any changes.

Operators that have completed risk assessments and carried out that engagement have introduced other mitigation measures. In some cases, they have introduced enhanced cleaning programmes or made available additional sanitiser and are ensuring stronger compliance with face coverings. In some cases, they are considering putting in place Perspex screens to protect members of their staff. Once those measures have been implemented, the operators can move to phase 1.

The guidance that we have issued to transport operators is to make sure that they comply with the risk assessment procedure, which they must complete prior to moving from 2m to 1m physical distancing. Those that we have engaged with to date have, prior to making such changes, followed the proper process by completing the necessary risk assessment and engaging with the workforce.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That was a really difficult session. There have been problems with the sound, and not just with the cabinet secretary. Thank you for your forbearance.

Meeting closed at 16:34.