Plans for North Lanarkshire Council-run buses look to be a non-starter unless there is a change of Scottish Government policy.
Last year, a motion from Kilsyth councillor Mark Kerr gained cross-party support for the idea to be taken forward which resulted in a group of councillors and officers investigating the feasibility of such a network.
The findings of the study were presented to the Environment and Transportation Committee, which stated that without Scottish Government funding the council would only be able to provide buses on routes which are not served by commercial operators, if indeed it could provide buses at all.
The report, written by head of Environmental Assets Nicole Paterson, reads: “As North Lanarkshire Council is part of the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) Area any municipal bus service provision would have to be delivered through SPT rather than directly by the council.
“However, without significant capital and revenue funding from the Scottish Government it is unlikely that any local authority will be able to deliver directly run local bus services.
“The proposals in the (Transport) Bill restricts local authorities to operating services that address a social need, which are those loss making services that commercial operators have abandoned.”
The report did propose North Lanarkshire host a digital community providing a place for those interested in Community Transport to share ideas and see what other places are delivering.
This has subsequently sparked an argument between the Environment and Transportation Committee convener Michael McPake and the working group chairman Councillor Kerr over who is to blame for the council seemingly being legally unable to move forward with its plans.
Councillor McPake blamed the Scottish Government, while Councillor Kerr, an SNP councillor, blamed the Labour administration in North Lanarkshire itself.
Councillor McPake said: “The findings of our cross-party group are clear – the Scottish Government are the only obstacle to a council-run bus network in North Lanarkshire.
“Recently, we’ve seen that the Transport Bill being taken through Parliament only allows councils to take over routes which have been cut by private bus companies.
“Now our working group – chaired by the same councillor who tabled the motion to council – is clear that without extra funding Holyrood, there is simply no possibility of a council-wide bus service in the future.
““We are now calling on the Scottish Government to give us the powers and the funding through their Transport Bill to roll-out a council-wide bus service.
“It’s time that the SNP in North Lanarkshire did the same.”
Councillor Kerr responded: “Yet again it seems that Labour are more interested in a cheap headline than working for communities here in North Lanarkshire.
“As we can see in Edinburgh, local authorities already have the power to run successful municipal bus franchises. But the Scottish Government’s Transport Bill, which I may add is still under discussion, aims to go further – empowering local councils to improve services in their area and provide new bus routes across Scotland.
“This report is the opening of the door not just reporting on the current situation.
“During our investigation it highlighted the excellent work being done on our behalf in both public and third sector providers, we were able to pinpoint the biggest issue that our constituents face, not just inter town travel but inter town and villages travel for specific events and times.
“These are what our ‘last mile’ travellers need improvements on.
“It’s time for Labour to stop pointing the finger at the SNP and get on with the job of delivering for the people of North Lanarkshire.”
Neil McGrory - Local Democracy Reporting Service