Jenny Gilruth showing promise over tricky ScotRail takeover - Alastair Dalton
Then there’s the money pit of running the network, deepened to epic proportions by the Covid pandemic that has seen hundreds of millions of pounds of extra funding shovelled into keeping a service going that was already the Scottish Government’s biggest contract.
Up to now, ministers have been able to blame the private operator – Abellio – when things went wrong. But that all ends in two weeks’ time when ScotRail returns to full public ownership after 25 years, and the buck stops with Jenny Gilruth.
On the face of it, that’s a daunting, if not thankless, task for the new transport minister.
But fewer than two months into the job, Ms Gilruth has proven herself a skilful operator, building on her knowledge and experience of campaigning for Fife rail improvements as a constituency MSP, including the Levenmouth line re-opening.
Crucially, she has understood the importance of keeping the powerful rail unions, which considerable industrial muscle, on board, and averted a potential early bust up by agreeing to consider extending the no-compulsory redundancies policy, which they feared would be scrapped.
It has helped earn her a surprisingly positive response from the union big guns, who appeared to be spoiling for a fight.
However, the minister has some other tricky issues to resolve, such as the opposition to proposed ticket office cuts and not restoring hundreds of daily services suspended by plummeting passenger numbers during the pandemic.
Ms Gilruth has stressed the importance of attracting people back onto the trains by making them feel safe, especially for women, but has acknowledged a further variant of the virus could reverse the returning trend.
Visible staff, such as in ticket offices, are seen as having a role in that, but in the end it will all come down to money.
Do you keep offices open and trains running when people aren’t using them, or should they be retained to encourage greater use?
Ultimately, with the ball now firmly in their court, ministers will have to decide how much value to place on ScotRail against competing spending priorities.
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