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SPT warns of cuts as ministers fail to fund extra Covid costs

26 June 2020

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has warned of deep cuts to public transport spending if it does not receive financial support from the Scottish Government for the additional costs and income losses from Covid-19.  

SPT has continued operating the Glasgow Subway and  some socially necessary bus services throughout the pandemic. But, despite making repeated requests to ministers,  it has received no financial support to cover additional costs or the collapse in passenger-related income on the Subway, and the loss of bus station departure charges and advertising. Subway patronage fell 97 per cent at the height of the lockdown. 

SPT assistant chief executive Valerie Davidson told councillors this week that the estimated deficit for 2020/21 was in the range £12.5m-£20m.  

SPT chair councillor Martin Bartos said: “Unfortunately, we’ve seen not a penny in Covid-19 support come to SPT to help either our bus or Subway efforts. 

“Meantime we’ve watched two rounds of Government financial support announcements for private bus companies, we’ve seen the Government stepping in to take on heavy rail losses, and we’ve even seen the UK Government supporting London Underground and light rail across England.”

SPT says the Subway and Edinburgh Tram are the only modes of public transport in Scotland not to have received some kind of financial support from Transport Scotland. 

Davidson told councillors that SPT set a balanced budget for 2020/21 on 6 March, which agreed local authority requisitions of £35.5m and generated income via various sources of £28.1m, mostly from the Subway. 

The £12.5m deficit  estimate assumes virtually no income for the initial 12-week period in 2020/21, 20 per cent of normal income for quarter 2, 30 per cent for quarter 3, and 40 per cent for quarter 4.  

SPT’s general reserves are circa £7m.  The organisation will review its earmarked reserves to see if there are any opportunities for them to cover losses. 

“A release of earmarked reserves is considered to have significant implications for key projects, including funding of the subway modernisation and the associated infrastructure works, and the future financial health of the organisation,” said Davidson.

She said SPT’s preliminary  assessment was that “the scale of the deficit can only be addressed by introducing significant service reductions to the very services that have played a key role in the response to Covid-19”. 

Davidson said Transport Scotland had asked if SPT’s constituent councils may be able to provide additional funding.   But she said that “strategically and practically, a request for additional funding at a time when their own resources are under significant strain, and importantly, they do not have the statutory responsibility to deliver transport services, is unlikely to be positively received”.

Asked about SPT’s financial predicament, a Transport Scotland spokeswoman told LTT this week: “We appreciate the important role that the subway and trams play in our two biggest cities and have undertaken detailed discussions with SPT and Edinburgh Trams to understand the implications of Covid-19 on their operations. 

“We are currently exploring what appropriate support may be available in the context of the very challenging financial situation, our published Covid-19: Framework for decision-making, and the Transport Transition Plan.”

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