'Hand back the keys to government cars until the trains are running again'

27 May 2022, 09:45

John Swinney replaced Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs
John Swinney replaced Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

SNP and Green government ministers should ditch their £1m a year chauffer-driven cars until the Scotrail dispute, which has seen hundreds of rail routes axed, is settled.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said ministers should show solidarity with commuters who have to rely on trains - and yet have seen vital services scrapped indefinitely leaving shift workers unable to get home without forking out for taxis as there is also no replacement bus service.

At First Minister's Questions, where deputy FM John Swinney was standing in for Nicola Sturgeon who has Covid, Mr Sarwar accused the government of "leaving people stranded with no public transport and asking them to use gas-guzzling vehicles instead".

He added: "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 now having to take another hit.

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

“Shouldn’t he and every other minister hand back the keys to their chauffeur-driven cars until they get this sorted and get Scotland moving again?"

He then asked Mr Swinney how many of the trains cut because of the dispute had been replaced by a free bus service.

Mr Swinney failed to give a direct answer, speaking instead about train driver numbers and negotiations.

Mr Sarwar said he had sent a message to ScotRail asking about how many replacement bus services there were and was told, ‘No, there isn’t any’.

He also raised the case of a service station worker in Helensburgh forced to spend £20 on a taxi to travel home to Dumbarton at the end of her evening shift. 

Mr Swinney said he sympathised entirely, and said it illustrated the importance of talks between ScotRail and the Aslef union, which has rejected a 2.2 per cent pay rise.

He also said the government was providing “practical help” with the cost of living, citing the doubling of the devolved Scottish child payment benefit and council tax support.

The First Minister’s official spokesman was later asked if Scottish ministers would stop using the Government car service during the ScotRail dispute.

He said: “I don’t think so. Ministers need to get around as part of the job. So they will continue to do that job in the way they usually do it.”

Asked if it looked bad for ministers to be ferried around while others struggled to work, he said: “They’ve got a job to do and they will get on with doing it in the normal way.”