What could possibly explain the SNP’s opposition to bus regulation?


Questions to which the answer is “Er…” – Number 6


Only two parties in Scotland are opposed to some form of re-regulation of the bus industry: the Tories and the SNP.

The Tory position is understandable: they believe the market – and the private bus industry itself – is best placed to decide whether a particular community should get a service.

The SNP’s position is rather harder to understand. After all, they pride themselves on being a “left of centre” party, so presumably don’t have the same faith in an unregulated market as do the Tories.

Re-regulation doesn’t have to mean a return to the days when local authorities owned bus companies; a small change in the law would allow local authorities to issue “quality contracts”, legally-binding agreements which could, if the councils chose, force bus companies to provide a minimum level and quality of service to those areas which currently suffer from poor coverage. Such a change would have a negligible cost, so lack of funds hardly explains the SNP’s reluctance to go down that route (ahem!).

So the latest Question to which the answer is “Er…” is:

Why are the SNP so reluctant to introduce even a modest measure of bus re-regulation?

Here at LabourHame, we just cannot conceive of any reason why Alex Salmond would be reluctant to annoy the owners of the large bus operators like First, Arriva and… oh, what’s the other one called…?

But maybe you can?

Got a question which you suspect our nationalist overlords would rather not be asked? Email your suggestion to info@LabourHame.com

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33 thoughts on “What could possibly explain the SNP’s opposition to bus regulation?

  1. Honestly I can’t think of a reason either but it’s probably nothing to do with the SNP or the First Minister. In fact it is probably those pesky civil servants. If not them then it will definitely be the no good london based UK government. Not them, errr, ok it’s clearly the fault of all the negativity of the Labour Party. We can definitely confirm it has nothing to do with Alex Salmond … OK!

    1. Bullshit! Salmond gets massive donations from Soutar so he isn’t going to ruffle his feathers! Like Cameron who is bought by Murdoch Salmond is bought by both Murdoch AND Soutar! funny how you pesky NATS can shout your mouths off regarding all things Labour but cannot take any critisism back.

  2. I think we already know the answer to this question. As I said before it’s a shame Labour didn’t make more of this issue during the campaign. It might have even gone down well in rural areas.

  3. “er” Regulation of Bus Services Bill

    The Transport (Scotland) Act 2001 gave councils powers to regulate bus services
    by specifying services, routes fares and vehicle standards through Statutory
    Quality Partnerships (QPs). But seven years on, no QP has been set up.
    The reason for this, according to a Scottish Parliament transport Committee investigation
    in 2005, is that councils are reluctant to become involved in the bureaucratic,
    time-consuming and expensive consultations required to create QPs.

    So Labour changes its mind yet again in opposition.

    1. Sorry to burst your bubble, but “Quality Partnerships”, favoured by the bus industry because they don’t commit them to anything that’s legally binding, are far too bureaucratic, which is why councils rarely try to implement them. Quality Contracts, on the other hand, would force bus companies to provide a minimum level of service in areas specified by local authorities. These, unsurprisingly, are resisted by the bus companies. However, Labour legislated in 2008 to make Quality Contracts easier for councils in England to implement. So far, unfortunately, the Scottish Government has not been persuaded to go down the English route.

  4. the Scottish Government has not been persuaded to go down the English route.

    So you obviously haven’t made a strong enough argument. If it is such a pressing problem why did Labour do nothing about it when they had the chance in all those preceding years in power?

    1. A constant nat criticism of this site is that we spend too much time bashing the SNP. And there may be some validity there, if we’re honest. But then Cynical Highlander comes along and desperately tries to talk about Labour policy when the original question – and I’ve checked this so I know I’m right – was about SNP policy.

      However, to answer your question – Labour should have done more to re-regulate the buses. So, now that we’ve dealt with that, CH – have you any theory as to why your own party doesn’t want to do better than Labour’s record on this issue?

      1. That’s a start in admitting past failings and I assume that bus regulation is not very high on the publics mind with escalating energy, food, housing costs exacerbated with the exorbitant vat hikes all controlled at Westminster.

        1. Lack of bus services, or poor bus services, certainly are a major issue in some of our communities. The vast majority of journeys undertaken by public transport are by bus. But why would you care? It’s not about the constitution, and that’s the only thing that matters, eh?

          1. Not up here is it an issue whereas those items I pointed too are Scottish wide not area specific. I want a Scottish government that considers all of Scotland for the benefit of all not just the select few.

  5. I’m waiting for a nationalist to come along and say that it IS SNP policy to regulate the bus industry… its the weasel words they use to get around the fact they havnt done it up until now that makes me laugh.

  6. I agree that regulation should be re-introduced in some areas of Scotland and have told my MSP this is something that should be considered.

  7. Sorry but yet again we are weeing in the wastepaper basket while the building burns down. Negative politicking is not what we want to be doing.
    This only makes our failure to address the Constitutional position more obvious.

    the best idea is Devolution Max – a la John Smith.

    There were other big switches in Labour policy in Scotland since ’97 which need to be re visited and stance defined.

    Attacking cash for questions is dangerous ground – are there any SNP lords???

    1. “Devolution Max – a la John Smith”

      What are you talking about? John Smith was a strong supporter of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which produced the detailed blueprint for devolution as embodied by the Scotland Act 1998.

        1. You got a reference for that? Because Donald Dewar was absolutely committed to John Smith’s vision for Scotland.

          1. Admin would need to paraphrase but he spoke about it as a developing thing not a one off.
            And we can see the people want just such a development. It is crucial that we get the right offer to combat the referendum question and Fiscal powers does that to both the nats and the Tories.

            It answers the Scottishness question and it wipes the Tories out of Scottish economics and prevents the current situation from ever happening again where we have Tory policy cutting when nobody voted for them.

  8. A short exposition of what bus regulation is, and what its effects are would help me. I note you rule out municipal bus services, I think that’s a pity, they used to work well in my experience.

    I’d be careful of starting a debate about dodgy honours recommendations. The Labour party would then have to start explaining lots of embarrassments from Marcia Falkender in the sixties right up to the present day. Lords are ten a penny in the Labour Party, some more worthy of appointment than others. Motes and beams, guys

    1. Strange, isn’t it, that no-one can answer the question? Irrelevant tangents about Labour won’t cut it this time.

      1. You started the tangental hints and allegations game in the original post. Ducking out of it now seems rather disingenuous, if not dishonest.

        Can you please explain to me why the poeople of Scotland are losing out through the current set-up, what your proposal is, and how it would be funded. If it requires funding, what will be cut to pay for it?

        1. See my answer below to Indy.You will notice that the SNP used to recognise the problem and were at one time prepared to do something about it. But that was 2007.

          If you really need to ask me about how Scots are losing out under the current arrangements, you need to talk to more working class people who depend on buses.

          1. I depend on buses. I have ME, and I don’t consider myself able to safely drive on many days, so I no longer have a car. I regret my inability to meet more working people, but I’m not able to work. My Employment Support Allowance has been discontinued pending another appeal, so at the moment I travel as little as possible. My nearest town is a £6 round trip on the bus, so not very affordable after I’ve paid my rent. Please tell me how I would be better off with a regulated bus service if the fares rise to cover the cost of unprofitable routes that the operator is compelled to provide.

          2. I doubt very much if a rise in fares would help you or anyone else, Richard. But it’s odd that you immediately jump to the conclusion that that’s what would happen.

  9. I have asked people on this site a number of times to set out what exactly they mean by bus regulation or re-regulation and how it can be done in a cost neutral way – because there is simply no money to allocate it.

    No-one has done that.

    Now you say that the SNP could make a minor change in the law to “allow local authorities to issue “quality contracts”, legally-binding agreements which could, if the councils chose, force bus companies to provide a minimum level and quality of service to those areas which currently suffer from poor coverage..”

    In fact the law already allows for that. To quote Charlie Gordon’s bill the idea is presumably to “Amend the procedures specified in the 2001 Transport Scotland Act, to make it easier, quicker and less expensive for Councils to respond to market failure in local bus markets by developing the statutory Quality Bus partnerships and Bus Contracts provided for in the 2001 Act.”

    So what you are calling for is not to introduce those powers but to amend legislation which already gives councils those powers to make it “quicker, easier and less expensive” to use them.

    So once again – but with no real hope of getting an answer – how, specifically, would you do that? And if you have specific proposals why were they not included in Labour’s manifesto?

    1. Indy, the difference is between a Quality Partnership and a Quality Contract. Partnerships are agreements between the bus companies and local authorities, where the companies, for example, agree to invest in new buses, and the council agrees to introduce new bus lanes. A Quality Contract is essentially a franchise, where a local authority (or Transport Scotland?) could give sole rights to one company (after a bidding process) to run services along a range of profitable and non-profitable routes.

      In England, Labour legislated in the Local Transport Act 2008 to make it easier to introduce Contracts, but it is of course up to the political leadership of local authorities whether or not they want to use the new powers.

      As things stand at the moment, it’s very common for a bus company to remove a particular service because it’s not making enough money, knowing that the local authority will recognise that it is a socially necessary service and will subsequently issue a tender for a subsidised service along the route. Very often, the same company will restore services, but this time being subsidised by the public purse to the tune of tens (sometimes hundreds) of thousands of pounds.

      The SNP recognised this up until 2007: http://bit.ly/qchOAJ

      1. Why then does Charlie Gordon’s bill say that Bus Contracts ARE provided for in the 2001 act? Was he wrong about that?

        1. They’re theoretically possible but you have to jump through so many hoops that they’re practically unachievable. It was local authority lobbying of the UK government on this issue that led to ministers lowering the threshold in 2008.

  10. Why would an operator compelled to operate some services at a loss not seek to recover the loss by increasing the overall level of fares, thus adding ti the burden on every bus passenger? Does not the current level of subsidy simply reflect the amount of the loss that would be otherwise incurred.

    I’m genuinely not certain that I see a major problem with the current system here, I think I just see an attempt to infer that Souter is ‘at it’. I live in a rural area that has a decent level of bus service provided by Stagecoach Fife, in co-operation with the Local Authority. I’d like the fares to be lower, but otherwise I’m a happy customer, and yes, I’m a regular user. The buses are modern and comfortable enough, time-keeping is good, and the drivers are generally polite and helpful. For me, the fare issue will sort itself out in 18 months when I get my bus pass, but I can’t see how fares can be kept low, and thre service further improved without significant extra spending.

    1. Or in other words “I’m alright, Jack!”

      And yet, if Alex Salmond announced today that he had performed (another) U-turn on bus regulation and said he was going to do it, every single nat commenter here would applaude and say “quite right!”

      1. I’m trying to get you to tell me what the benefits are – you won’t answer, you just tell me to ask working class people who depend on buses. I’m an unable to work person who depends on buses, and I’d like an answer. I know nothing about bus regulation, a week ago I’d never heard of it. Tell me why I should support it, and assume I don’t give a stuff about Alex Salmond’s opinion of the matter, because, frankly, I don’t.

        I know you are a politician, but break the habit of a lifetime and answer the question.

        1. Richard, I’ll ignore your ignorant and dim-witted comment at the end and simply say that the point of introducing Quality Contracts would be to get services into areas that don’t currently have them, and to improve services where they’re currently poor. If you disagree with those aims, perhaps you’ll lobby the Scottish Government to get rid of franchised rail services, allowing train companies to run services on any lines they like and to withdraw services from non-profitable lines?

          But you’re clearly not prepared to consider the alternatives to the ideal status quo. If I haven’t persuaded you even to look again at the industry, then more posts from me will be wasted. I’m therefore closing this thread.

          On the plus side, this is one Question To Which The Answer Is “Er…” which has actually been answered: the SNP won’t introduce even a modest increase in bus regulation because, like the Conservative Party, they believe the market will provide. Useful to know.

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