DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney has insisted there are adequate numbers of train drivers for the future as he faced questions over ScotRail service cuts.

Stepping in for Nicola Sturgeon today as she recovers from Covid-19, Swinney said there had been growth in the number of train drivers since 2015 but Scotland was in a “period of difficulty” because the network currently relies upon rest-day working.

He was being quizzed by Anas Sarwar in the wake of a temporary timetable being brought in this week following a dispute over pay between trade unions and ScotRail bosses.

Drivers from the Aslef union have refused to work overtime or rest days after rejecting a 2.2% pay rise which has led to 700 weekday services being cut. 

Sarwar said people were struggling to get to and from work and questioned Swinney on why there were no replacement bus services being put on.

He highlighted the case of a woman in Dumbarton who couldn’t drive and was having to fork out £20 for a taxi to get home from work at night because there were no trains.

Sarwar said: “She does not have a ministerial car to get home in. She has to spend £20 on a taxi. That means she has to work two hours just to pay to get home.

READ MORE: SNP booted out of power in Edinburgh by Labour's Unionist coalition

“At the start of 2020, there were 2400 services a day, In February, this Scottish Government made permanent cuts of 250 services a day. And this latest chaos sees that increase to almost 1000 services a day cut.

“And the message from ScotRail and the Scottish Government is to make your own arrangements. Normally when there is significant disruption, a replacement bus service is provided.

The National: Anas Sarwar wanted answers on why there were no replacement bus servicesAnas Sarwar wanted answers on why there were no replacement bus services

“I watched the ScotRail board this morning to ask about replacement bus services. There isn’t any replacement services across the country.”

Swinney did not address why there were no replacement bus services in place, but he stressed driver capacity was in a good place going forward and encouraged unions and ScotRail to come to a resolution.

He said: “The network currently relies upon rest-day working, that is a process we are trying to eliminate, but the training of drivers was interrupted by Covid.

READ MORE: In-person SNP conference confirmed for Aberdeen this autumn

“We are trying to make progress on boosting driver numbers, because there are more drivers available than there have been in the past, but we have to resolve the dispute. I encourage trade unions and ScotRail to reach a conclusion as part of that process.

“If we look back at 2015, there were 1086 drivers on ScotRail. That in December was 1168. There has been growth in the number of drivers.

“ScotRail would’ve trained 130 more drives had the process not been paused during the pandemic. There is now a pool of almost 900 pending driver applications which gives us a supply of candidates coming into training that will allow us to expand the availability of driver personnel.

“The ScotRail board gave authority for the recruitment of a further 135 drivers. I put those points on the record to address the capacity of the rail services and show investment is being made in ensuring we have adequate numbers of drivers in the future.

“We are in a period of difficulty right now because drivers are exercising their voluntary right not to undertake rest day working. We’ve put in place an amended timetable which puts in place more certainty about the availability of services rather than last-minute cancellations.”