First Minister agrees to crisis meeting on West Lothian buses

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The First Minister has agreed to a crisis meeting with West Lothian council to find a solution for local buses.

Humza Yousaf has promised a meeting between the Transport minister, Linlithgow MSP Fiona Hyslop, and national agency Transport Scotland to find a solution to the crisis.

McGills announced last week that they will end all Eastern Scottish services in the county by December 4.

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Council leader Lawrence Fitzpatrick said: “I am very pleased that the First Minister has agreed to my request and we will meet Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister as soon as possible to discuss a solution to this untenable and frightening situation for bus users.”

The First Minister Humza Yousaf has agreed to a crisis meeting with West Lothian Council to find a solution for local buses.The First Minister Humza Yousaf has agreed to a crisis meeting with West Lothian Council to find a solution for local buses.
The First Minister Humza Yousaf has agreed to a crisis meeting with West Lothian Council to find a solution for local buses.

The Holyrood concession comes the day after senior councillors urged the Scottish Government to reinstate emergency funding put in place to help the bus sector through the Covid crisis.

The removal of that funding at the end of March triggered a wave of service cuts with the worst hitting the smallest and poorly served communities on the western fringe of West Lothian.

The council had also called on the Scottish Government to publish a long awaited review of bus services. The Fair Fares review was promised after the Scottish elections in 2021.

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A council spokesman said: “Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s First Minister, has given the Leader of West Lothian Council assurances that the Transport Minister and Transport Scotland representatives will meet council representatives at the earliest opportunity to help find a solution.”

Councillor Fitzpatrick said: “The only solution is funding from the Scottish Government to support local bus services and that is a message that has come across loud and clear form the bus operators themselves.

“Our job is to very quickly get round the table with the Scottish Government. They have the powers. They have the money, which we don’t.

“The council has maintained funding for a number of subsidised bus services, particularly where villages have no alternative bus service, despite a predicted £39 million budget gap over the next five years.

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“What is clear to everyone is that councils don’t have the resources to meet current levels of service delivery, so we cannot solve the bus crisis.

“The idea that the council can step in to fund new services is completely unrealistic and unachievable given the funding position we are in. It is our hope that the Scottish Government act now.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We note the decision taken by McGills, which we understand is driven by low use of the services, coupled with the difficulties in recruiting bus drivers. The majority of bus services in Scotland are operated on a commercial basis by private bus companies. The power to subsidise services deemed as socially necessary sits with local authorities.

“We are committed, alongside operators and local authorities, to improving services to ensure everyone has accessible public transport, regardless of geographic location. There is a broad package of long-term investment in bus, including through the National Concessionary Travel Schemes, Network Support Grant, Community Bus Fund, and for bus priority infrastructure.

“There is also an enhanced suite of options we are introducing for local transport authorities to improve bus services according to their local needs.”