Scotland’s railways should be brought back into public ownership “lock stock and barrel”, unions leaders have demanded.
Representatives from Aslef, the train drivers’ union, and the Transport Salaried Staff Association (TSSA) spoke out in favour of a motion at the Scottish Labour conference calling for the railways to be “publicly owned”.
The motion, put forward by Aslef, hit out at the Scottish Government’s “ongoing failure to effectively enforce the terms of the ScotRail contract”,
lt went on to demand a Labour campaign for Dutch firm Abellio’s franchise to be cancelled “with immediate effect”.
It was passed by activists at the conference in Perth after trade union leaders accused Abellio of “hiving off” £16 million from the subsidy they receive to run ScotRail.
Kevin Lindsay, Aslef organiser in Scotland, said the transport firm received “£293 million of our money in subsidy” but added: “They then hive off £16 million a year and brag about it as they invest it in the Dutch railways.
“I’ve got to say to the Dutch Government and Abellio well done. To the Scottish Government, I say to you hang your head in shame.”
He continued: “The reality is Abellio is milking us, why do we allow them to send £16 million back to Holland? Where could we spend that £16 million? Could we freeze our rail fares, could we make better facilities in our railway stations? Or could we reduce business rates properly for small businesses?
“These are the decisions we could make if we bring the railways back in house.”
Stephen Lawrence of the TSSA demanded: “It’s now time to ensure Scotland’s public transport system, in particular our railways, are run in the interests of passengers, that they are run in the interests of the Scottish people and the ordinary Scottish worker is being put first.
“This means we must end the scandal of foreign state owned companies, such as Dutch state operator Abellio, having free reign to maximise their profits at the expense of Scottish passengers and taxpayers.”
He added: “I would like to see a rail company owned lock, stock and barrel by the Scottish people, running our railways efficiently, effectively, on time with workers and passengers having a real voice in how it is run, with every single penny of profit kept in Scotland and reinvested in the network and with fares kept at an affordable level.
“We should take back the keys from Abellio as soon as is feasibly possible and begin work right away on planning and modelling a new public operator to take charge. Even the Scottish Government have begun to realise that a different future for Scotland’s railways is possible.”
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has already met passenger groups, unions and political parties to discuss options for bringing Scotland’s railways into public ownership, amid ongoing criticism of performance under current operator Abellio.
He has said such a bid could be ready for 2020 when a clause in the contract with Abellio would allow it to be broken.
Labour transport spokesman Neil Bibby told the conference: “Let’s take the initiative and send this message to Humza Yousaf.
“The SNP may have lost their majority but if they are serious there can be majority for a publicly owned people’s ScotRail - a people’s ScotRail owned by us, a people’s ScotRail run for us, a people’s ScotRail that puts passengers before profit.
“It’s time to take our railways back.”