Campaigners have criticised a government funding decision to reject a bid from a publicly-run transport body in favour of awarding cash to private companies.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) applied for financial support from Transport Scotland's ScotZEB 2 scheme for £6 million to pay for a new fleet of publicly-owned electric buses.

However, the west of Scotland regional transport partnership had its bid rejected and the funding pot was instead awarded to two private firms.

The first phase of ScotZEB was awarded in March 2022 and resulted in £60 million of public money being given to private bus companies, according to a list of successful bids on the Transport Scotland website.

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Just 2% of the funding remained in the public sector.

Ellie Harrison of the grassroots transport campaign group Get Glasgow Moving said: "It’s really shocking and disappointing that SPT’s ScotZEB2 bid has been rejected, and that this £58 million pot of Scottish Government funding has been handed to private financiers instead."

Get Glasgow Moving campaigned in the summer in support of SPT putting in a bid to what was the second phase of Transport Scotland's ScotZEB scheme.

Bidding has been narrowed down to two private companies, Rock Road and Zenobe, which now have until January 19 to submit a "final and best bid".

Unsuccessful parties who have had their own bids rejected can approach Rock Road or Zenobe to ask to form a consortium with them. 

Ms Harrison added: "This would have been a great opportunity for SPT to buy a new fleet of electric buses in order to get a new publicly-owned bus operator for our region – a new Strathclyde Buses – off the ground using the new powers in the Transport Act, which came into effect in July 2022.

"But alas no.

"For some unknown reason, the Scottish Government decided to outsource decision-making on this scheme to a democratically-unaccountable organisation called Energy Saving Trust.

"And the result is that there is now another huge chunk of public money to buy new electric buses being siphoned off into the private sector, on top of the £329 million the revenue support the private bus companies receive every year."

The funding decision comes as calls are growing for the franchising of Glasgow's bus network in a manner similar to that introduced in Greater Manchester, spearheaded by mayor Andy Burnham.

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A report commissioned by Get Glasgow Moving and produced by the thinktank Centres For Cities last month suggested SPT as best placed to run such a system.

Private bus firms such as McGill's have pushed back against the suggestion that franchising bus routes in Greater Glasgow would have a positive impact on fares and customer experience, saying changing the "name above the door" will not resolve crucial issues such as congestion.

Last year the Scottish Government released new powers in the Transport Act 2019 which enable new publicly-owned bus companies to be established for the first time since bus deregulation in 1986.

Only Highland Council has utilised these powers so far but campaigners are pushing for Glasgow's authorities to do similar for the city.

The Scottish Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund (ScotZEB) aims to to support change in the bus market in favour of zero-emission technologies, according to Transport Scotland.

The fund is designed to help achieve Scotland's climate change targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the delivery of Low Emission Zones, such as that already up and running in Glasgow.

SPT said it is looking at whether to appeal the decision while also reviewing the merits and further additional costs involved should it join one of the remaining ScotZEB2 consortia bids led by private financiers.

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An SPT spokesperson said: "SPT is disappointed by the decision not to support our comprehensive ScotZEB2 bid which would have helped support SPT’s transition to a zero-emission fleet.

"It is unclear at this stage whether such a model would represent best value.

"We will also review our ScotZEB2 submission to assess whether there are any elements we can progress and any opportunities for finance to support this important initiative."

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney said: "There is a growing public and political consensus across Greater Glasgow and the entire Strathclyde region that public control of the bus system must be re-established."

The funding decision comes in the same week the Scottish Government finally commenced the powers passed by Parliament in 2019 to franchise regional bus networks.

Mr Sweeney said SPT would have his full backing for any appeal.

He added: "As SPT is in the final stages of developing its regional bus strategy, it seems perverse that an unaccountable and undemocratic body has unilaterally defied this process by awarding yet more public money to private bus companies whilst excluding the relatively small SPT bus fleet from any investment.

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"It seems particularly perverse given that this small fleet of 41 buses is used as a last resort to plug the gaps in the Glasgow region's bus network caused by private firms cutting their services to maximise profit.

"This disgraceful and undemocratic decision serves to underscore that continuing with this broken Thatcherite bus model of privatising profits while the public picks up the bill for loss-making, but socially vital services is simply no longer tolerable."

Ms Harrison added: "Is it too much to ask that new electric buses bought with public money, remain in public ownership?

"If the Scottish Government wants public transport to work properly in this country, so that it’s integrated, reliable, affordable and easy for everyone to use, then they need to stop this nonsense all together.

"Why can’t we do what most civilised countries in the world do?

"That is to properly empower and fund democratically-accountable public transport authorities like SPT so that they can plan, coordinate and deliver all the public transport in the regions that they serve.

"It’s really not rocket science - and all these ridiculous schemes are just a huge distraction from delivering it."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that the government is "driving forward bold action to decarbonise Scotland’s transport sector" with investments of more than £113m capital in zero-emission buses since 202.

He added: "Bus is already one of the most climate friendly transport choices people can make.

"Decarbonising buses to zero-emissions further increases the benefits of bus as a transport choice.

"The second phase of the Scottish Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund aims to support swift, and significant, change in the bus market in favour of zero-emission technologies.

"Currently Scotland has around double the proportion of its fleet already zero-emissions, compared to the proportion in England."