THE WESTMINSTER leader of the SNP has described the shifting of Abellio jobs from Fort William to Glasgow as "a form of modern day Highland clearance".

Ian Blackford spoke out after meeting with management of Abellio, the Dutch company that runs ScotRail, to ask them to review the decision which effectively means the closure of the office with the 19 staff being asked relocate to Glasgow.

He said Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK should reverse the decision "or go" saying he was not showing he was fit to run a business.

Mr Blackford said that the managers had refused to re-examine the closure, that Fort William office had already lost 40 staff over the past four years and called on Abellio to "stop the madness".

He then tweeted: "I met Abellio management regards the decision to relocate jobs from FW to Glasgow. The staff have been mistreated, the business has been run down in order to facilitate this move. To relocate jobs to the central belt in this way is a form of modern day Highland clearance."

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This sparked a row with Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth calling it a "crass and tasteless remark" saying the SNP MP was "desperate to grab a headline" while forgetting that "Abellio was handed these contracts by the SNP government in Edinburgh.

Abellio deny that it has deliberately brought about the decline of the Fort William office, saying the reduction was the result of being unable to replace staff.  

And it said it would create 60 new jobs in Glasgow instead where they feel there is a bigger pool of people for recruitment.

Employees were informed of the news last month that they would be offered the opportunity to working in Glasgow - 110 miles away - with a package of support.

The rail operator said the move came as part of the company’s plans to expand its customer service operations across Scotland.

Mr Blackford further accused Abellio of "butchering the business" adding: "I find this unacceptable, particularly when we consider that the reason that Abellio are in Scotland is because they operate the rail services for the benefit of all of us.

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Dominic Booth

"I am very keen that we have a sustainable future in the Highlands. We need to have a broad based economy. The fact we have a business that is funded by the public purse that is turning its back on the Highlands by closing this facility, is completely unacceptable.

But Mr Smyth added: “The buck for this move by Abellio stops with the SNP Government .

“The government failed to protect the call centre in Fort William in the franchise agreement with Abellio.

“The company will rightly point out that is exactly what the SNP did when it centralised the police and fire service call centres and axed hundreds of jobs in rural Scotland.

“I’d appeal to Abellio to reconsider this move as the loss of this number of jobs in a rural community has a huge impact.”

A spokesman for Abellio said: "Last week we shared our proposals with staff and their trade union. This week we will commence the consultation process with staff.

"This week we will receive feedback from our staff and with this in mind until we have spoken to our staff it would be inappropriate for us to comment on Mr Blackford’s statement.”