First Minister to discuss West Lothian service cancellations
Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s First Minister, is to discuss looming bus service cancellations in West Lothian.
After McGill’s Group announced it is to cease its bus services in West Lothian from 2 December, Scotland’s First Minister has agreed to the Leader of West Lothian Council’s request to look at a solution for local buses.
West Lothian Council has previously called upon the Scottish Government to reinstate the Covid recovery support for buses.
Scotland’s First Minister, has given the Leader of West Lothian Council assurances that the Transport Minister and Transport Scotland representatives will meet council representatives at the earliest opportunity to discuss what can be done to help.
The vast majority of bus services in West Lothian are wholly commercial.
McGill’s took over West Lothian services from FirstBus in late 2022. Since that time, McGill’s Group has injected a total of £4.5million into McGill’s Eastern Scottish to turn round the ailing business.
Despite this investment, McGill’s Eastern Scottish has faced what it describes as constant challenges on a number of fronts. The West Lothian network has endured sustained head-to-head competition from a nearby publicly owned operator, which entered the market several years ago. This, alongside a new electrified railway, has meant that Eastern Scottish routes to Edinburgh had to contend with huge competition as well as the challenges of the capital’s roadworks, diversions and congestion.
The business also had historical and current issues, including driver shortages and long-term, sustained passenger decline.
McGill’s Group said it would enter into consultation with staff and union representatives at Eastern Scottish but said it was committed to avoiding redundancies where possible.
From 15 October, McGill’s buses X22 and X24 between Livingston and Edinburgh will no longer run. Alternative buses exist on Lothian Country routes 72, X27 and X28.
From 2nd December, buses 21, 23, 25 and 26 will no longer run. McGill’s expect there to be an announcement on these routes shortly.
There will be no changes to routes 20, 63 and 68 at this time.
“However, despite investing around £4.5million in Eastern Scottish operations, we have now come to the conclusion that the ongoing losses are simply unsustainable” – Ralph Roberts, CEO at McGill’s Group
Ralph Roberts, CEO at McGill’s Group, said: “It is deeply regrettable that we are having to cease our West Lothian services and we recognise the angst and uncertainty this will cause for our team members and passengers in the area.
“We were fully aware of the challenges that existed for the business in West Lothian when we took over late last year and throughout that period, we have strived to make changes that might place the operation onto an even keel in the medium to long-term.
“However, despite investing around £4.5million in Eastern Scottish operations, we have now come to the conclusion that the ongoing losses are simply unsustainable. Inflationary pressures have meant costs have been rising substantially at the same time revenue is continually slipping, with passenger numbers showing long-term decline – not helped by significant competition.”
Mr Roberts added that McGill’s Group would do all it could to support staff and passengers in the coming weeks as the changes take effect.
Ralph continued: “We believe that we have done all we can to make our West Lothian operation work, but we need to recognise that with the challenges that exist, we have fallen short. Too many operators serving too few customers for too long has destabilised the marketplace in West Lothian.”
“The only solution is funding from the Scottish Government to support local bus services” – Leader of West Lothian Council, Lawrence Fitzpatrick
Leader of West Lothian Council, Lawrence Fitzpatrick, said: “The only solution is funding from the Scottish Government to support local bus services and that is a message that has come across loud and clear form the bus operators themselves.
“I am very pleased that the First Minister has agreed to my request and we will meet Transport Scotland and the Transport Minister as soon as possible to discuss a solution to this untenable and frightening situation for bus users.
“The council has maintained funding for a number of subsidised bus services, particularly where villages have no alternative bus service, despite a predicted £39 million budget gap over the next five years.
“What is clear to everyone is that councils don’t have the resources to meet current levels of service delivery, so we cannot find funding to solve the bus crisis.
“The scale of the budget reductions facing the council mean that the council can’t continue to deliver existing services as they are currently provided. The idea that the council can step in to fund new services is completely unrealistic and unachievable given the funding position we are in. It is our hope that the Scottish Government can act now to help the bus crisis in West Lothian.”