Give up your chauffeur-driven limos until train chaos sorted, SNP ministers told

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Commuters are being left stranded due to a drastically scaled-back timetable by ScotRail - PA
Commuters are being left stranded due to a drastically scaled-back timetable by ScotRail - PA

Scottish ministers have been urged to give up their taxpayer-funded, chauffeur-driven cars until chaos on Scotland’s nationalised trains is resolved.

Anas Sarwar said tens of thousands of people were being left stranded after work due to a drastically scaled-back timetable, imposed this week after drivers stopped working overtime amid a pay dispute.

Most services are ending several hours early, with ScotRail refusing to organise any replacement buses.

The Scottish Labour leader on Thursday told John Swinney, who was standing in for Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions, that normal workers could not rely on the round-the-clock car service which is provided to SNP and Green ministers.

The Scottish Government’s fleet of 28 ministerial cars, which includes Tesla, Mercedes and Lexus vehicles, and 23 drivers and staff to run the service, cost the public purse almost £1.4 million per year, before costs reduced to around £1 million during the pandemic.

Mr Sarwar said that ministers should “hand back the keys” to their ministerial cars until the train timetable returned to normal. SNP ministers nationalised ScotRail on April 1, with services descending into chaos within weeks.

“While the Deputy First Minister and his colleagues have 28 chauffer-driven cars, costing over £1 million to get them to and from their work, this SNP/Green government is cutting 1,000 rail services a day, offering no replacement bus services, and are forcing people to work hours just to pay for a taxi home,” Mr Sarwar said.

“Shouldn’t he, and every other government minister, hand back the keys to their ministerial, chauffeur cars, until they get this sorted and get Scotland moving again?”

In response, Mr Swinney spoke about other government policies aimed at addressing the cost of living crisis and launched a political attack on Labour for making agreements with the Conservatives at council level.

While there is no formal industrial action, the temporary timetable on rail services has been put in place indefinitely because drivers are refusing to work on days off to cover services during a pay row.

Aslef, their drivers’ trade union, have branded a 2.2 per cent pay offer derisory amid soaring inflation, and had been pushing for more than 10 per cent.

Talks aimed at resolving the dispute were held on Thursday and Aslef said it would consult with members over an improved 4.2 per cent offer, which includes three years of no compulsory redundancies and “other improvements”.

‘People are being left stranded’

Mr Sarwar said: “In the middle of a cost of living and climate crisis, this SNP and Green government are leaving people stranded, with no public transport, and are asking them to use gas guzzling vehicles instead.

“What this failure means in practice is tens of thousands of people struggling to get to and from work. More people out of pocket and made poorer. Millions lost for local businesses and the industries that suffered so much during Covid taking another hit.”

Ministers have backed the temporary timetable, claiming it will provide “certainty” to customers and is preferable to services being cancelled at short notice.

However, some scheduled trains have continued to be cut since the timetable was implemented on Monday.

At Holyrood on Thursday, Jenny Gilruth, the transport minister, said that she wanted to see the dispute resolved as soon as possible but added: “I do not drive the trains.”

Mr Swinney said “I sympathise entirely” with people who had been left stranded because of the ScotRail timetable and that talks to resolve the dispute were ongoing.

“We have got to run a safe railway and we can only do that with fully and properly trained drivers,” he said.

“The network currently relies on rest-day working, that is a process we are trying to eliminate, but obviously the training of drivers was interrupted due to Covid.”

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