This article was first published in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald and other Scottish Provincial Press publications.
You may have heard of a report recently produced by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston.
The report has been widely cited as it takes an in depth look at the pernicious social security policies of the UK Government, describing the Tories flagship policy change, Universal Credit, as “Universal Discredit”. Professor Alston also highlighted the hugely gendered nature of the UK Government’s atrocious programme of social security cuts commenting that it looked like it had been designed by, “a group of misogynists in a room.”
One aspect of the report, which has not had a great deal of coverage so far relates to bus services.
The report states, “Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, and it is one of the reasons I started my Better Buses campaign, which aims to capture the experience of bus users across the country.
Bus patronage has been falling year on year, and while the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill does propose some initiatives in relation to bus services, it does not go anywhere near far enough, and will do nothing to offer communities, particularly those is rural areas, the good quality services that they need.
Local Councils should be empowered to provide bus services that serve the needs of our diverse communities, many of which are currently cut off from services, with commercial operators deeming them unviable.
The Scottish Government does provide some funding to support the provision of services, but it announced a cut of £7 million to this support in its draft budget.
While the current system of bus operation is complex and frustrating, it is disappointing that the Scottish Government is neither providing the necessary financial support, nor suggesting a new model to support communities.
Around a third of people do not have access to a private car, yet the Scottish Government’s transport policies are almost exclusively focused on this mode of transport. Government policies should focus on the needs of everyone in our communities, not only those who have a car.
We need to tackle the issues of congestion, air pollution, and climate change urgently.
Academy Street in Inverness city centre is among Scotland’s most polluted streets, and air pollution is responsible for around 2500 deaths in Scotland each year. It is therefore vital that we encourage folk to leave their cars at home, but we can only achieve this if we make the alternatives more attractive.
If we are going to do this the Scottish Government needs to prioritise bus services, which are reasonably priced, clean, and reliable.