Rivals challenge SNP over getting aboard public bus firm plan

THE Scottish Government is under pressure to clarify what support it would give to plans by East Lothian Council to set up its own bus company.

The council came up with the idea of a publicly-owned bus company after First announced widespread cuts in its under-performing services in East Lothian and Midlothian, resulting in up to 200 job losses.

The plight of communities which now face losing vital bus links as a result of First’s withdrawal was raised in the Scottish Parliament as MSPs debated cuts in bus funding.

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Both East Lothian and Midlothian councils said they were confident of having arrangements in place with other bus companies to take over routes being abandoned by First in June.

But East Lothian Council leader Paul McLennan said his authority was still determined to pursue the idea of a council-owned firm to stop a similar situation arising in the future.

He said: “We are still keen to go down the route of how we can set up our own bus company. The First Minister and the Transport Minister have both said they support it and we have been given logistical support by two officials from Transport Scotland.”

The new trading company, to be called East Lothian Transport, would seek to shore up bus links for the threatened routes, which currently cater for 95,000 passenger journeys a week.

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However, East Lothian Labour MSP Iain Gray challenged Transport Minister Keith Brown in parliament to say what financial support would be on offer.

He said he liked the idea of publicly-owned bus companies such as Lothian Buses, but added: “To set up the equivalent of Lothian Buses in East Lothian would require, for example, the purchase of a number of buses, which cost around £200,000 each.

“I await the indication that he is prepared to fund the kind of initiative being promised.”

Mr Brown told MSPs: “We have said we will make sure Transport Scotland provide as much advice as possible.”

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Mr Gray said the SNP in East Lothian was claiming government funding would be available, but the minister had failed to confirm any financial help.

He added: “What we need from the SNP is some clarity about what they are suggesting, how much it would cost and whether it is legal.”

Colin Beattie, SNP MSP for Midlothian North & Musselburgh, applauded East Lothian Council’s vision, saying First had failed to invest and failed to manage its operating costs.

He said: “They brought up ancient double-deckers from Wales to replace already-old stock.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Discussions have been extremely positive. We hope to see a speedy solution that serves commuters and protects as many jobs as possible.”