It’s not a radical proposal, or at least it shouldn’t be, to suggest that public infrastructure should be designed to serve the public good. Whether that be in health, education, utilities or transport with the more recent nationalisation of Scotrail, the public deserves good quality services they can rely on. Nothing less.

The political outrage and public outcry following the decision of First Bus to remove the night bus service in Glasgow seemed to surprise the company. FirstGroup PLC, which doubled its profits in 2023 to £82,100,000 and receives significant public subsidy, has cut a lifeline service to our late-night economy workers for fear of dampening its profit margins. The company stated that night bus usage over the past year does not justify the retention of the service. We say that short-term profit-picking should not be prioritised over public services.

In 2021-22, more than half (£329 million, 55%) of bus operator revenue came from local or central government subsidy. It is estimated about 10% of this public funding leaks straight back out of the industry through dividend payments to shareholders. In other words, private companies within our public service networks are making profits they otherwise may not have made without the public footing the bill, whilst simultaneously cutting vital bus routes the public rely on. The public are being taken for an absolute ride, but not in the way they should be.

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FirstGroup’s response was laughable. Duncan Cameron, Managing Director of First Bus, suggested that it should be late-night workers themselves who should drive the buses home. How silly of me - why didn’t I think of that? Instead of decently-paid bus drivers with fair terms and conditions providing a service to the wider public, it should be the bar, social care and hospitality workers of Glasgow who should, after working all day, drive an 11-tonne bus home.

Mr Cameron admitted that the idea was “whacky”. That’s a polite framing, to say the least. What chance have workers got if this is the quality of thinking that is partly responsible for running a public transport network in Scotland?

To bring it back to reality for a moment, we’re seeing, yet again, profit-making companies holding the public to ransom. It’s the same script. The same plot. The same outcome. Only the names have changed. Whether you’re FirstGroup, British Gas or Sainsbury’s, it’s clear that workers are being exploited for having the apparent audacity for trying to afford the bare necessities - transport, energy and food - during this cost-of-living crisis.

Political faux outrage doesn’t help workers either. Glasgow-based politicians, including the current and former First Minister no less, co-signed a letter to First Bus practically begging it to re-introduce the night bus service.

Is this really the best we can expect from our political class? It is deeply worrying that those in power are reduced to asking ever so nicely for services workers and the public rely on simply not to be cut.

Asking nicely does little. Anything progressive our movement has won – higher wages, better conditions, fairer terms – was through the collective direct action of working people. Our Safe Home campaign, recently re-launched and driven forward by the youth of the Scottish trade union movement, aims to do just that and demands far better from employers and our public transport providers. Safe Home aims to shine a light on the plight of workers within the late-night economy, or those working irregular hours - social care staff, aviation, logistics and extended hospitality workers - and the lengths they must go to just to get safely home at night. Workers should not be put in a, frankly, dangerous position where they must sacrifice almost a third of their nightly wage and fork out on an expensive taxi home - if they even manage to get one - or worse still contemplate a completely avoidable and potentially risky walk home. Building in partnership with others throughout our movement, including Unite the Union’s "Get Me Home Safely" campaign focused on hospitality, young workers throughout the country are taking ownership over their working lives and demanding accessible, affordable and publicly-owned transport networks that serve them, not shareholders.

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This is part of a far wider issue. Transport emissions are the greatest contributor to Scotland’s carbon footprint and the area in which least progress has been made. Penalising private car use may have its place, but building viable and attractive alternatives - buses and trains - is the key to changing how people choose to travel. Not that the majority of Glasgow’s night workers could dream of affording a car.

Years of reliance on the private sector and a lack of coherent public funding for our transport networks have led us to this point. Since Scotland’s buses were deregulated by Margaret Thatcher’s government more than 30 years ago, fares have risen and passenger numbers have slumped. Since 1995, fares have increased by 58% in real terms, while passenger journeys have fallen by 43%.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Local authorities can take bus networks into public ownership through municipal bus companies. Lothian Buses (which runs a fairly extensive night bus in service) is the only publicly-owned bus operator in Scotland. Yet, the 2019 Transport Act contains powers for public control of services, including re-regulating our bus network. The Scottish Government has made some cash available for councils to build up bus infrastructure, yet it has made accessing this money dependent on forming a partnership with private bus operators like FirstGroup. A fund which should support local authorities to build up their own public bus networks has effectively made that impossible.

As Glasgow and the rest of Scotland for that matter recover from the pandemic, now is the time to fundamentally alter the balance of power in the country. We can’t afford to go back to a failed economic model of relying on private industry to provide for the public good. Rather than lining the pockets of shareholders, we need to take back control of our buses and wider public services, so they are run by the people, for the people, and not for the profiteers.

Roz Foyer is General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress