PLANS to hand councils greater powers to run their own bus services have been branded “utterly embarrassing”.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Bill would give local authorities the ability to run services “where there is a good case for doing so”.

But critics insist it does not go far enough and will simply lead to public control of loss-making routes, leaving councils lumbered with debt.

Scottish Labour’s Colin Smyth said bus fares have soared under the SNP, while passenger numbers have plummeted.

He said: “This bill is a chance to deliver real change on our buses and start to reverse the SNP’s decade of decline. Allowing local authorities to set up municipal bus companies is essential to this.

“However, under the SNP’s damp squib of a bill local councils will be left picking up the pieces, running the very few loss-making routes whilst transport tycoons line their pockets on the rest of the bus network.

“They must drop these unpopular proposals and support Labour’s plans to re-write the bill to deliver genuine municipal ownership that gives Scotland a transport system which is run for the many, not the few."

He said the proposals left Edinburgh’s Lothian Buses as the only municipal bus company allowed to run any route.

Scottish Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Mike Rumbles said: "Bus travel has fallen by almost a quarter over the past decade, yet the SNP are happy to give transport tycoons a veto over any locally owned alternative.

"In its present form this is an utterly embarrassing bill that does no more than pay lip service to the needs of local communities.

"Which local authority is going to want to create a municipal bus company when they are only allowed to run loss making routes? This is the worst of both worlds; privatised profits and pressure on councils to pick up the slack."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Transport (Scotland) Bill will support local authorities to meet local needs, whether they wish to pursue partnership working, local franchising, or running their own buses where appropriate.

“Local authorities can already run their own services in some limited circumstances, as some do. The Bill extends these powers.

“The Bill allows local authorities to deliver bus services which are not being offered by commercial companies. They can do this either directly themselves or through a council-owned company to address gaps in the services provided in their local network.

“We are aware there are a range of views on these matters and the legislative process will allow these to be aired as the Bill undergoes Parliamentary scrutiny.”