A ScotRail report suggesting 1000 jobs could be at risk and questioning if ticket offices will remain has been slammed by unions and politicians.
Trade union bosses have expressed anger after an internal report on the future of ScotRail questions whether “the provision of ticket offices is viable in the future” as the service begins to recover following the Covid-19 crisis.
The report also suggests that the franchise, currently owned by Abellio but due to enter public ownership next year, could make a permanent 10 per cent cut to services.
The National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT) claims this would mean more than 85,000 services being cut annually and a loss of more than 1000 jobs.
The union has claimed the report seeks to “legitimise damaging cuts to Scotland’s rail network”, in a move that be a “kick in the teeth” to staff who have been key workers throughout the pandemic.
Trade union bosses also believe it runs counter to the country’s climate change targets.
Transport Scotland said both it and the Scottish Government had no involvement in the report, while ScotRail claimed the report is not a formal proposal but contains recommendations on the future of the railway post-pandemic.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “This report is a blatant attempt to further a cuts agenda that will be devastating for Scotland’s railway.
“On the one hand, the report rightly acknowledges that Scotland’s rail network has a central role to play in meeting climate-change targets, yet it goes on to advocate service cuts, ticket office closures, and job losses.
“This will make Scotland’s railway far less safe, secure, and accessible for passengers and runs counter to Scotland’s net-zero targets.
“With COP26 taking place in Scotland in November, and ScotRail coming into public ownership in eight months’ time, we need an alternative future for Scotland’s railway that values passengers and staff, and invests in creating a sustainable, affordable, and accessible rail network.”
The report was made by Professor Iain Docherty, a former non-executive director of ScotRail and Transport Scotland, and talks of the changes seen during the pandemic, and of the ‘unique platform’ to ‘reduce staff costs quickly’.
The report states: “There is also a clear opportunity to explore how digital technologies and automation of certain functions could reduce revenue spend, but this will require addressing ‘difficult’ cultural and political questions.”
ScotRail is facing a financial crisis in the wake of the pandemic and is currently surviving off an emergency taxpayer support of more than £400m.
The franchise is coming under state control in March 2022, with Dutch-owned Abellio being stripped of the franchise three years early following an outcry over service failings and rising costs to taxpayers.
Scottish Conservatives transport minister Graham Simpson said: “The logic behind this report is deeply flawed.
“We want to see simpler fares and we want to make travelling by train easier, but you don’t do that by closing ticket offices. Not everyone will be able to buy tickets digitally, so this kind of idea risks creating a travelling underclass.
“We should be looking to invest in and expand our rail network and not follow this slash and burn approach.”
Scottish Labour slammed the proposals, calling them “irresponsible”.
Labour party transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: “This is an explosive report that appears to propose permanent cuts to pre-pandemic rail services of at least ten per cent.
“This would be economically, socially and environmentally irresponsible.
“The Transport Minister must immediately clarify the status of this report and rule out retrograde cuts to the rail network.
“We should be building up rail services, not cutting them back and cutting jobs across Scotland’s network.
“Labour stands with passengers and the workforce in the fight against cuts.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Transport Scotland is pressing ahead to put in place arrangements to mobilise a wholly owned company of the Scottish Government to provide ScotRail services when the current franchise expires as expected on March 31, 2022.
“Permission from the Government was not required by Abellio to commission this report and Scottish Government and Transport Scotland officials did not hold any discussions with Professor Docherty in relation to his report.
“Transport Scotland, as part of the Rail Recovery Task Force, uses Transport Focus’s passenger pulse research to identify the changing priorities and requirements of rail passengers during and post Covid-19.
“This also provides a platform to assess the scale and pace of recovery from Covid and, in particular, the potential to move towards our policy vision of an integrated public sector controlled railway.”
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We are seeing a gradual increase in the number of customers returning to the railway due to the easing of travel restrictions and coronavirus controls, but with passenger numbers at only 50% of the pre-Covid level, this is not the time to put that recovery in jeopardy.
“Railway jobs are being put at risk by the reckless actions of the RMT and we are urging union bosses to call off divisive strikes and false narratives.”
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