SPT deficit threatens services if no support is forthcoming

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has not ruled out reducing support for contracted bus services if it does not receive urgent financial aid from Transport Scotland (TS) to remedy a growing deficit.

SPT faces a shortfall of at least £12.5m for the current financial year owing to a significant reduction in income. That figure could reach £20m in a worst-case scenario. SPT says that if no funding from TS is forthcoming, maintaining all the services that it currently provides – including local bus contracts – will not be viable.

SPT Chief Executive Gordon Maclennan highlighted to TS as early as 30 March that the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic would have a “potential serious impact” on SPT’s finances. The Partnership notes that bus, ferry and train operators in Scotland have all been awarded funding by TS since the crisis broke.

Mr Maclennan has written to TS three further times since March. Regular discussion between the two bodies continues, but “not a penny” of support has yet been received.

The impact has been compounded by an increase in the cost of providing contracted bus services, says a report by SPT Assistant Chief Executive Valerie Davidson. That is because the terms of those contracts are based on assumed farebox revenue. As passenger numbers have reduced, operators have sought mitigatory additional contract payments.

“Without financial support, it will be necessary to bring forward a range of options to address such a significant financial deficit,” Ms Davidson continues. “Initial assessment has highlighted that the scale of the deficit can only be addressed by introducing significant service reductions.

“Without financial support from the [Scottish] Government to offset the lost income, maintaining services is simply not viable.” The report adds that asking local authorities (LAs) in the area that SPT covers to make good the shortfall “is unlikely to be positively received.”

Although SPT says that all options will be assessed in finding the most appropriate solution to the deficit should financial aid not be received, it acknowledges the importance of contracted bus services to those people that use them.

Much of SPT’s income is generated by the Glasgow Subway. Passenger numbers there fell by up to 97% after movement restrictions were introduced.

SPT has confirmed to routeone that any potential cuts to services will not involve the contracted home-to-school transport that it administrates on behalf of LAs.