Bus staff fear ‘plunder’ to pay for tram

Trams in St Andrew Square. Picture: Lesley Martin

Trams in St Andrew Square. Picture: Lesley Martin

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WORKERS at Lothian Buses have hit out at plans to “plunder” the company’s profits to fund the tram extension.

Councillors will today agree in principle to take the trams down Leith Walk to Newhaven, partly financed by £25 million dividend cash from publicly-owned Lothian Buses.

A report to the council outlines how £5m of dividend cash already held by the council and a further £20m from an “extraordinary” dividend would pay for initial works and “public transport revenues” would fund loan repayments for the rest of the project.

But bus workers’ union Unite voiced fears the arrangements could spell job losses, reduced investment and the threat of a sell-off.

Unite deputy Scottish secretary Mary Alexander said: “Our members are clear that Lothian Buses’ profits should not be plundered to pay for the trams but this report has set alarm bells ringing and there is real anger in the depots.

“If enacted, these proposals would effectively signal the cut and gut of investment and jobs at Lothian Buses and our members fear this would also leave the operator more vulnerable to private sector advances in future.”

She said it also seemed “totally inappropriate” to spend so much money – the latest estimate is £162m – on extending the trams when the council was seeking 2000 redundancies to make £141m worth of savings.

She said: “Unite will meet again with council leaders over the next week and we will repeat our call for a collaborative response to the funding crisis, but our immediate message to councillors is to park proposals for a tram extension at this time.”

Today’s meeting will defer any further decision on the tram extension until the next full council on December 10.

Council leader Andrew Burns, said: “As majority shareholder of Lothian Buses, the council does of course seek to secure the best long-term interests of the company.

“Therefore, prior to moving to the next stage of the tram project, it is our intention to formally clarify with Lothian Buses details of any impacts such an extraordinary dividend would make on its outputs, ensuring complete clarity with regard to project finances. That clarification will form part of the next tram report to council in December.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com