ScotRail cuts: Nicola Sturgeon says train service reductions 'not acceptable' as timetable could last weeks

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Nicola Sturgeon has said it is "vital" Scotland's train services return to normal as quickly as possible as she was accused of overseeing a "disaster".

The First Minister urged ScotRail bosses and union leaders to "get round the table and negotiate" in good faith.

It came as ScotRail’s service delivery director David Simpson said a new temporary timetable could be in place for weeks.

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ScotRail, which was nationalised last month, is cutting 700 services from Monday in response to a driver shortage caused by a disagreement with the union Aslef, which has seen some drivers decline to work overtime or on rest days.

Business chiefs said the move to slash late services was "yet another cruel blow for Scotland's hard pressed night time economy and cultural sector".

Ms Sturgeon apologised for the disruption during First Minister's Questions in Holyrood and said it was "not acceptable".

She said ScotRail decided a "a temporary timetable was preferable to unplanned cancellations", adding: “However – let me stress this point and let me say this point very strongly – it is vital to get the timetable back to normal as quickly as possible and I expect ScotRail to review the temporary arrangements regularly. Indeed it is due to be formally reviewed on June 3.”

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PAFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA

The First Minister said it was important to reach a fair and affordable agreement on pay.

She said ScotRail "continues to reduce the need for rest-day working through training new drivers".

Tory MSP Graham Simpson raised fears it could take "until at least 2024" to train the necessary 130 drivers.

Ms Sturgeon said ScotRail hopes an additional 38 drivers will be trained before the end of the summer, rising to 55 by the end of the year and "100 after that".

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Earlier, she said: “I would say to the unions, I understand their job to represent their members and to get a fair pay deal for members, but let’s see both parties get round the table and negotiate that in good faith – I think that’s what the travelling public want to see as well."

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Let’s remember, Nicola Sturgeon and her Government are in charge of Scotland’s railways."

He said Ms Sturgeon previously claimed nationalising ScotRail was a "new beginning", adding: “Seven weeks into nationalisation, it’s already proving a disaster.”

Mr Ross continued: "The SNP took over running of our rail service on April Fool's Day, but NatRail is no joke for Scotland's passengers."

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said there had been a cut of almost 1,000 rail services since the start of 2020.

He accused the SNP of chasing headlines without doing the work, adding: "Maybe they should employ fewer spin doctors and more train drivers.”

Aslef Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay accused ScotRail and the Scottish Government of handling the situation "appallingly".

He said: “We need a fair pay deal and there must also be a clear and pro-active plan to recruit more drivers."

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A spokesman for the Night Time Industries Association said: "These devastating cuts to rail services will leave commuters rushing to catch early trains home, and prevent ordinary people across Scotland from travelling into our towns and cites during the evenings.

"Such cuts to services, even temporarily, is yet another cruel blow for Scotland's hard-pressed night time economy and cultural sector, which are yet to recover from the pandemic."

Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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