John’s Questions the Scottish Government on Publicly Owned Railways

Below is a transcript of John’s question on public transport fares and publicly owned railways.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to ensure that fares on public transport do not become so expensive that people are priced back into their cars. (S4O-01960)

The Minister for Transport and Veterans (Keith Brown): The Scottish Government provides substantial funding for rail and bus services in Scotland, including subsidies to make public transport an attractive alternative to the private car. In the coming year we will offer £187 million in national concessionary travel reimbursement to ensure free bus travel to people over 60 or with disabilities and £50 million in bus service operators grant, which helps to keep fares lower than they would otherwise be. Within our £5 billion package of improvements for the rail network, we support almost 75 per cent of the cost of a rail ticket through Government subsidies.

John Finnie: State-run East Coast has been widely regarded as a success, with more than £600 million in premiums and profits paid into the United Kingdom Government coffers in the last three years. Does the minister agree that a state-run service can be a success? Will he make representations to the UK Government not to return East Coast to the profiteers of the City of London? Will he outline what plans he has to return Scotland’s rail network to successful public ownership?

Keith Brown: Part of the answer lies in the response that I gave previously to Richard Baker, which is that we are prohibited from doing that. We have asked the UK Government about that. It is of course something of an anomaly that a state-owned organisation in Germany can bid for the public rail services in Scotland and yet we cannot currently have a public sector bid in Scotland. It is also very surprising to me that I was not contacted by the UK Government on the question of the east coast mainline. For my part, I was very surprised that it should see that as a priority, given the state of the franchising process for other franchises. I will take up that matter with the UK Government.