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Scottish Budget 2010-11: no progress yet

There is no sign of the Scottish Government paying attention to the recommendations of the all-party Parliamentary Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee.

In its report on the draft budget 2010-11 the TICC Committee recommended that the government urgently look into a transfer within the transport section of the budget, to increase investment in cycling and walking.   Our news item on this received widespread coverage.

As a result many Spokes members and other cyclists throughout Scotland contacted their MSPs asking for the TICC recommendation to be taken seriously and acted on.   So far the government appears to have ignored the recommendation – just as they did to a similar, though less strong, TICC recommendation last year.

WHAT MSPs SAY – AND WHAT WE SAY

Several members have now forwarded us replies from MSPs, and these confirm the levels of concern.   Mike Pringle MSP [Lib Dem, Edinburgh South] said “a considerable number of constituents are contacting me” and has written to Stewart Stevenson, Transport Minister.  Dr Ian McKee MSP [SNP, Lothians] introduced his letter with “So many people have contacted me about this issue that I have drafted this response.”

The fullest response was Dr McKee’s – and naturally he attempts [unsuccessfully in our view] to defend his government.   We therefore post here a response to Dr McKee’s letter, including the letter itself  [NB – if this download shows up in long lines, save it as a file, then open that].

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Over the holiday and in early January the political parties at Holyrood engage in last-minute behind-the-scenes bartering, with the SNP government then publishing a final Budget Bill which it hopes includes sufficient concessions to other parties to get through the Parliament.

We believe that Green MSP Patrick Harvie and Labour MSP Cathy Peattie have already together held a private meeting with Finance Secretary John Swinney, on behalf of the TICC Committee, to press the case for adequate investment in cycling and walking, but we have little idea what the various parties will be holding out for in the budget negotiations.

What concessions the parties demand in the behind-the-scenes argy-bargy are likely to depend on what they think constituents want.  It is interesting that Dr McKee in his above letter says, “I also wish to highlight that opposition parties have so far been more concerned with GARL  – the Glasgow Airport Rail Link – than active transport.

That is of course absolutely no excuse for the SNP government knowingly to allow cycling investment to fall further and further throughout their period in office [Spokes Bulletin 104, page 1].   However, it highlights that government decisions can be as much about political advantage as about principles.  When writing to non-SNP MSPs it is worth using that quote from Dr McKee and asking if it is a fair reflection of their party’s attitude to investment in cycling in Scotland, or if their party really is pushing for proper investment in the 2010-11 budget.

Dr McKee is right in saying that other parties [notably Labour] have concentrated heavily on the cancelled GARL project in their budget comments.   Whilst Spokes is generally very supportive of rail, this is not a scheme about which we have strong views either way.   However we do point out that this one project in one part of one city, to take a relatively small number of people to Glasgow airport, was costing £200m-£400m.   The same sum would provide literally thousands of cycle infrastructure projects, a massive boost to walking and cycling opportunities in every part of Scotland – it is probably more money than has been spent in total on every cycling project in Scotland ever.  One of the main arguments for GARL was the job opportunities – but there is no comparison with the number and widespread nature of jobs which would arise from thousands of cycle infrastructure projects throughout Scotland.  The politicians seem to be missing something very obvious here!   And if GARL has been cancelled, saving several £100m, surely £20m of that could have been channelled to cycling investment – perhaps even the cycle investment fund proposed by Spokes.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

It’s still very much worth writing to MSPs – find them at writetothem.com.  You may find useful arguments in our above response to Dr Ian McKeePlease send us useful replies.

When writing to SNP MSPs point out particularly that falling cycling investment [as shown in the SPICe Bulletin Cycling in Scotland] is completely incompatible with their target for 10% of journeys to be by bike in 2020 and the aims of the Climate Change Scotland Act.  There are also useful quotes from the Sustainable Development Commission’s 3rd annual report on Scottish Government progress – see appendix below.

When writing to other MSPs use any of the above points, but you might also like to ask whether they accept Dr Ian McKee MSP’s suggestion that they are  largely forgetting about active travel (cycling and walking) in their budget negotiations because GARL is dominating their agenda – or is their party really also pressing for adequate cycling investment in the budget?

APPENDIX – EVIDENCE FROM THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

The Sustainable Development Commission Scotland is the official independent advisory body on sustainable development to the Scottish Government.

It said in its First Assessment that in Scotland €œTransport is the poorest performing area for sustainable development€ and, within that badly performing area, €œactive travel is in relative decline.€

Their Third Assessment, published very recently, states that the government€™s 2020 target for 10% of journeys to be by bike €œis welcome but requires significant investment in high quality, safe and attractive€ cycling infrastructure. It says that €œa significant reallocation of transport funds€ is required. It identifies €œa gap between the Scottish Government€™s aims and its financial commitments.€

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