The boss of the UK’s largest independent bus operator has hit back at calls to franchise Glasgow's buses - but admits passengers are being failed by a dearth of routes in some communities.

Ralph Roberts, CEO of McGill's Buses, spoke in response to comments made by the MSP Paul Sweeney following the news that First Glasgow was to remove its night bus services in the city.

A shock decision to end 11 night time routes across Glasgow caused uproar and saw First Glasgow extend the services from a final date of July 31 to August 20.

Mr Sweeney then called for Glasgow City Council to look at franchising the city's bus services using existing powers that have been utilised in the east coast to form Lothian Buses.

READ MORE: Boss of First Glasgow suggests bar staff drive the night buses

The Labour politician suggested Glasgow needs a figure like Manchester's mayor, Andy Burnham, who has spearheaded bus franchising there.

However, Mr Roberts, who is also President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), said franchising is "no silver bullet".

He said: "No one, including Paul Sweeney, is thinking about the people that are using the bus on a regular basis, two thirds of whom are from a lower income household.

"When you make changes to bus services, you are really affecting people with no other choice.

"Close to half of Scotland that doesn't have access to a car and they are affected really badly if you stop services, cancel services, put services on later in the day - that really affects people's life chances, their access to education, their access to work.

"It's not as simple as Paul Sweeney would like people to think because that's a dogmatic philosophical position that he's peddling.

"Glasgow City Council could do it by autumn if they wanted to but they need funding and they know it's not possible in the current budget."

Following the First Bus announcement, McGill's stepped in to say it would look at the feasibility of running some of the night bus routes.

Now, however, Mr Roberts says plans have been paused to wait for a final decision from First - but the operator said it was willing to work with First to share the routes.

First Glasgow had said the night services were not financially viable given dwindling passenger numbers and that a driver shortage meant drivers were to be redeployed to other routes.

But Mr Roberts said: "Night buses in a big city like Glasgow are totemic. You can do lots of things with bus services and in this industry you have to or you go bust.

"But there are some things that are sacrosanct and in a city like Glasgow the night buses are one of those things.

"When's the last time you saw a reaction like this to any of the cuts or any of the things that have happened to bus services? Because they were last man standing.

"You don't get overnight trains, you don't get overnight subways, so there are some things you just have to do even if they are a loss-making service."

"At McGill's we feel night buses are crucial."

Mr Roberts said that removing the night bus risked marginalising already marginalised people.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf and Nicola Sturgeon condemn night bus axe

He added: "The night service has long been a bit bare bones; it's been a while since it was a seven night a week service so the night time economy is difficult.

"And if you look at the night time economy, it's likely to be students, young people, people trying to get a leg up, people on minimum wage.

"It generally tends to be people that need those opportunities and probably don't have access to a car. So again, it's a double whammy.

"Paul Sweeney is thinking about what I call the silver bullet theory.

"He is a bright guy but he's got the politician's tendencies to go for the sound bites and reduce everything down to the the lowest common denominator."

Mr Roberts added that franchising would amount to "business confiscation" and said McGill's, which has invested £55 million in electric vehicles, would be at risk of "going bust".

He said: "Not all companies are the same.

"There is the sense that some bus companies are just ripping profit out of it and yes, some bus companies are - and I say 'ripping', which is a very emotive term - but some companies are making a very good, healthy profit margin.

"For others they invest surpluses back into the buses so people have a better services."

Mr Roberts, in an interview with The Herald, also spoke of a reduction in commercial demand for buses following the loss of heavy industry and described the difficulties in serving routes to new, large housing developments on the edge of urban areas.

He expressed frustration at comparisons with London's transport network, citing the differences in journey length, capacity, population density, the LEZ pushing out cars and the large volume of bus lanes that cut congestion.

Regards the oft-praised Lothian Buses, which are franchised, he pointed to the larger percentage of people who use the bus and the lack of local train network in Edinburgh.

Mr Roberts added: "If [Mr Sweeney] is serious about what he's doing and what you see, then he's really going to have to open up dialogue in a much wider basis because what's happening is people like me are treating him like a fringe interest individual, rather than a serious politician.

"Around 75% of all public transport trips are made on bus.

"So you can't treat the majority of Scotland's public transport problems as a fringe interest problem because it's not."