Sturgeon vows timetable cuts will be temporary as FMQs focuses on ScotRail 'chaos and disruption'
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly stressed that wide-scale cut-backs to Scottish rail services are “temporary” during a parliamentary session that was dominated by questions over her government’s nationalisation of ScotRail.
The rail operator, which in February cut 250 services from its pre-pandemic timetable, was taken under government control at the beginning of April. Yesterday it was announced that as of Monday around 700 further services will be cut to help deal with staff shortages that have resulted from an ongoing pay dispute.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross kicked off First Minister’s Questions by asking Sturgeon whether she would apologise to passengers for the “chaos and disruption” the cancellations are going to have and added that hospitality businesses will suffer due to the final trains from some destinations being brought forward by several hours.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar noted that when ScotRail was brought into public ownership Sturgeon had hailed it as a historic moment and asked whether making hundreds of cuts to services was “what she had in mind”.
In her response the First Minister conceded that the cuts were “an important issue” that would be of “significant concern to rail passengers”, adding that she would “always express apologies” when services are not of the standard that the public deserves.
However, she said the latest reduction in rail services is expected to be temporary, noting that the cuts were “made necessary by the decision of some drivers not to take up the option of overtime [or] Sunday and rest day work as part of a pay dispute”.
ScotRail has been relying on existing workers taking up overtime and Sunday working to keep services running in the face of staff shortages that have been caused by pandemic-related delays to new-driver training.
Members of the Aslef union are refusing to take on those extra shifts as part of a bid to improve a rejected 2.2 per cent pay offer for the 2022-23 year.
Conceding that the cancellations are “disruptive to individuals and businesses”, Sturgeon said that while the pay and training issues are ongoing a temporary timetable was deemed “preferable to unplanned cancellations”.
She added that the situation would be subject to regular review, with the first scheduled to take place on 3 June.
When Conservative MSP Graham Simpson noted that it takes 18 months to train a new driver, Sturgeon said that 55 were due to qualify by the end of the year with a further 100 “after that”.
The First Minister also agreed with SNP member Fiona Hyslop that strike action planned by rail workers in England “might” have an influence on the pay dispute in Scotland.
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