Buses could be sold to pay for trams

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By Kirsty Topping

EDINBURGH’S publicly-owned bus service could be sold off to plug the funding gap in the trams project, it is feared.

Union bosses believe it could be one of the options put before councillors looking to raise money to fund the line to St Andrew’s Square.

The project needs 170m to bring it to the city centre.

Unite, the union which represents the company’s drivers, has already written to councillors urging them to vote against any proposals to sell off the company or borrow against its profits.

Rab Fraser, chairman of the Lothian Buses branch of Unite, said: “After the last council meeting our concern is where the money is coming from.

“Our position is clear – Lothian Buses must not be sold off to pay for the trams, our profits should not be squeezed to plug the funding gap, and the business must remain in the ownership of the people.

“Compromising Lothian Buses will only lead to increased fares and reduced services.”

Industry experts value the company at between 150 and 200m but the council has previously ruled out a sale.

The original budget for the project was 545m, but council chiefs have already arranged to borrow an extra 5m.

And last month leaked figures showed that building to St Andrews Square would cost 773m – leaving bosses to find a further 170.

Council officials have spent the summer recess meeting with the Scottish Government over how they can find the money to complete the tram line as far as the city centre.

It was hoped officials would be able to report back to councillors in August with ways of raising the money.

However, that now looks increasingly unlikely, with the council dependent on the Scottish Government to approve new ways of borrowing cash.

Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group, said any proposal that would directly affect Lothian Buses would be “totally unacceptable”.

He said: “Lothian Buses is a publicly-owned company and will remain so. There’s no prospect of our group supporting any sale of the company.

“We felt opening the line to Haymarket could be done within the existing budget.

“We were not prepared to support the option of going to St Andrew Square because it’s going to require extra money.”

Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, the city’s transport convener, said: “We’ve said in the past that there’s no way we’re going to sell off Lothian Buses.”

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