Lifeline funding to stave off massive bus service cuts urgently sought by transport minister Jenny Gilruth

Lifeline funding to avert huge bus service cuts and hundreds of job losses is being urgently sought by transport minister Jenny Gilruth as operators struggle to recover passenger numbers after the pandemic.

Industry chiefs told The Scotsman they are hopeful that the support which was due to end at the weekend will be extended because the number of journeys taken on Scotland’s biggest form of public transport remain at only 80 per cent of pre-Covid levels.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), which represents operators, said if the Network Support Grant Plus (NSG+) was not continued, 50 routes across Scotland could be cancelled, cutting services in some areas by one third and triggering more than 200 job losses.

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One bus chief has warned that Scotland faced a “looming cliff edge” because of the likely widespread impact on the most vulnerable people.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said Scottish Government bus industry funding was greater than elsewhere in the UK - but its post-Covid support is due to end sooner. Picture: Transport Scotland

Similar funding is being continued by the UK Government in England and Wales until March.

CPT has estimated that a six-month extension of funding in Scotland would cost around £45 million and it could be paid for by a projected underspend in the Transport Scotland budgets for free travel for the over 60s and the under 22s of more than £160m because fewer trips than forecast were being taken by these groups.

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Gilruth has told MSPs: “I am looking urgently at a range of options to provide further support to the bus industry.”

She said Scottish Government support was “significantly greater” than that provided elsewhere in the UK, and the staff shortages caused by Brexit and fuel cost increases affecting operators were matters for the UK Government.

Gilruth announced in June a three-month extension of the NSG+ scheme at a cost of £25.7 million, weeks after The Scotsman revealed her officials had accepted that axing it would trigger “sharp cuts”, particularly in rural areas.

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Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: "I have been pressing the minister to extend bus funding for some weeks

"The last time I did this, she acted.

"This time we have had no such announcement and the funding that was in place ended on Sunday.

"The consequences of not extending the funding could be catastrophic.

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"Routes will go, fares will rise, frequency of services will be reduced and it will put a severe strain on some operators.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “For too long the SNP have overseen decline in our broken bus market with fewer passengers, services cut and fares rising.

"The Scottish Government should provide additional support to the bus market but this must maintain services and cap fares to make bus travel more affordable."

CPT Scotland director Paul White said: "We remain hopeful that the [Scottish] Government will be able to extend the NSG+ that remains critical to the viability of many services."

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A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: "NSG+ was already extended by the minister beyond its original completion date to October.

"NSG+ was grant funding to help the sector recover from Covid and it was additional to the NSG grant which operators also benefit from.

"The minister has undertakden to urgently consider any further support that might be available within budgets, but this has to be undertaken in line with the Scottish Government’s emergency budget review.”