December 2012
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Scottish Budget process fails – again!!

For the fourth year running, MSPs have been convinced by expert evidence of the need for greater funding if there is to be any hope of reaching the government’s cycle-use target.  But, despite this, the draft Scottish budget 2013/14  is unlikely to change – thanks to political cowardice and government obfuscation.

In its report on the draft Scottish budget 2013-14, the Scottish Parliament’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, after extensive evidence-taking and scrutiny, have strongly recommended increased funding for cycling and active travel – just like they and predecessor committees have done for several years.

However, just like previous years, they have refused to say how transport spending could be re-jigged to allow for this.   After the experience of previous years, Spokes had made this a major point of our evidence to the Committee [Section B – “Role of the ICI Committee, a challenge!’].   We also took the unprecedented further step of writing individually to all members of the Committee emphasising that their recommendations would be disregarded by the government unless they made a serious effort to say where the money would come from.

Instead, the Committee flunked its duty, complaining instead [admittedly with considerable justification – see appendix 1 below] that the transport budget is so confusing that it is impossible for the Committee to make specific recommendations on re-allocating funds…

[para 208] The Committee does not believe however, particularly due to the lack of transparency of the information contained within the Draft Budget, that it is best placed to identify where additional funding for active travel should come from within the transport budget, and that this task should be undertaken by the Scottish Government.

However, in our view the Committee really has no excuse.  Even if warnings from Spokes are of little consequence, the Finance Committee report reminds them…

[para 207] … some subject committees have suggested alternative spending proposals without identifying where the money would come from. The Committee reminds subject committees of paragraphs 39 and 40 of the guidance on the draft budget which was published in June 2012 and which states, “The Finance Committee would expect that subject committees would propose additional spend within their remit and that they would take money from another budget line within their remit, since they will have built up an evidence base for this during their scrutiny of the draft budget.”

Apart from this huge failure in political courage, the active travel and cycling investment section of the ICI Committee’s report is excellent, with a range of valuable conclusions and recommendations – see appendix 2 below.

Because ICI Committee has failed to say where active travel money would come from, the Finance Committee report, which makes recommendations based on the subject-committee reports, has not endorsed the ICI Committe’s call for more active travel funding [although they have backed up the point about the transport budget being very confusing].

In preparing its final Budget Bill, the government normally follows the Finance Committee advice, with Finance Secretary John Swinney also normally (and, perhaps, understandably) repeating the mantra that he cannot accept calls for more funding unless Committees tell him where that money is to come from.   It is therefore now 95% certain that the final Budget Bill, to be presented to Parliament in January, will contain nothing more for cycling – and any final hope of meeting the government’s 2020 cycle use target will vanish.

The only real chance now of an improved 2013-14 budget is massive public protest as happened so successfully last winter, thanks to the combined efforts of organisations such as Stop Climate Chaos, Transform Scotland, WWF, etc, and in which Spokes too was proud to play a part.

Meantime, rather than a properly costed and funded path to meeting the government’s 2020 cycle-use target, we are left scrabbling around for extra bits of one-off money here and there – the latest example being our and your opportunity to lobby the government for cycling investment from the recently announced ‘Barnett consequentials’ money.

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Consolidated links from the above article, for ease of reference…

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Appendix 1 – Lack of Government Budget Transparency

The Scottish Government has a long-standing policy of confusing all and sundry about levels of cycling investment, and this year Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP virtually admitted it, in his evidence to ICI committee…

[para 172] “I can understand why cycling organisations want to isolate the investment in cycling but, in looking at our priorities on health, fitness and the environment, I think that it is absolutely right and proper that we look at active and sustainable travel in its entirety.”

Funding for cycling investment comes from a range of different ‘lines’ in the budget, including amounts (largely unspecified in the budget) from…

  • Future Transport Fund [the fund is also used for a range of other purposes including low-carbon vehicles]
  • Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets [also used for walking and some traffic management etc]
  • Sustainable and Active Travel [also used for a range of other purposes including, again, low-carbon vehicles, bus projects, park-and-ride, etc]
  • Trunk roads [how much of the big trunk road budget goes to cycling is unknown]

In our written evidence in this and previous years, Spokes has called for greater clarity.   Last year’s ICI Committee report also urged the government to provide greater transparency, but this year the Committee highlight that there has been no improvement, and say they are…

[para 136] still unable to clearly determine, and therefore effectively scrutinise, the level and proportion of total transport funding available for active travel, and more specifically for cycling or walking.

[para 140] The Committee restates its belief that the Scottish Government must ensure that presentation of the active travel budget information is fully accessible and can be clearly distinguished from total funding for sustainable travel. In recognition of the cross-cutting nature of active travel, the narrative in the budget documents should also include clear signposts to related budget provision in other portfolio areas. This would significantly aid the monitoring of active travel spend and lead to improved accountability.

The deliberate guddle on active travel and cycling investment in the budget plays to the government’s political advantage, allowing them endless scope to confuse the public, MSPs and even expert Committees as above.   As Spokes pointed out in our evidence, the government often announces with great fanfare a new cycling initiative from one funding area, whilst quietly cutting another.  The Smarter Choices project was largely funded by cutting money to SustransExtra cycling money from the new Future Transport Fund was balanced by cutbacks in CWSS money and less going to cycling from the Sustainable and Active Travel budget line.   The government has also come up with tortuous reasoning, picking and choosing from the various budget lines, in order to ‘prove’ that its manifesto commitment on active travel [Spokes Bulletin 112, p6] is being met.

Appendix 2 – The ICI Committee Report on the Draft Budget

Although we are extremely disappointed, as in the main article above, that the Committee flunked the vital step needed to give its funding recommendations a real chance of implementation, the section of their report dealing with active travel is in many other respects excellent, both building on their report of last year, and also clarifying issues with further evidence taken this year.   This is a Committee of MSPs who have specialised in this area, and taken expert evidence, and their report contains many very valuable quotes, conclusions and recommendations, which retain considerable value even beyond the budget debate.   These include…

[177] The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government take this opportunity to include interim targets within the refreshed strategy [Cycling Action Plan for Scotland, CAPS] to allow for improved monitoring of progress against the 10% cycling modal share target.

[178] The Committee … recommends that the Scottish Government again uses the opportunity afforded by the CAPS refresh to identify and direct realistic and appropriate levels of funding to its delivery from other areas of the transport budget. If the required level of investment is not made, the Committee believes that there is a very real risk that the 10% target will not be met, and that the Scottish Government would need to consider scaling back on this ambitious objective.

[190] The Committee therefore repeats its call to the Scottish Government to identify additional funding from elsewhere in the transport Budget to maintain CWSS funding to local authorities in 2013-14, at 2011/12 levels of £7.5 million.   [Spokes note: CWSS has been cut to £6.1m for 2012/13 and £5.6m for 2013/14, having been at a level of around £9m for several years up to 2010/11 inclusive, though it will recover partially to £8.2m in 2014/15 ].

[199] The Committee also believes that active travel is an extremely important aspect of preventative spend* and the significant economic benefits of spend in this area are not being given sufficient weight in allocating the transport budget. The Committee believes that further investment needs to be made to achieve the long term desired change. Pedal on Parliament stated in oral evidence to the Committee,  “Some very good reports have highlighted the economic benefits of this approach to health. Cost benefit analyses tend to suggest that a cost benefit ratio of 2:1 is very good. The cost benefit ratio of active travel is about 13:1 globally and 19:1 in the United Kingdom. It is clear that cycling and active travel provide significant economic benefits.”

[203] The Committee therefore recommends that the Scottish Government should consider further immediate adjustments to the current allocation within the Draft Budget 2013/14 and redirect additional funding from other transport lines to active travel. The Committee remains convinced by the evidence received that even relatively minor adjustments could bring disproportionately larger economic and societal benefits.

[213-214]  The strategic importance of active travel funding specifically in contributing to a number of key national objectives, including health improvements and contributing to the reduction in Scotland’s carbon emissions, cannot be underestimated. …  The Committee therefore recommends that the Scottish Government gives further consideration to attributing a proportion of the total transport budget to active travel in future years.

[219] The Committee … is concerned that total transport emissions are currently higher than in 1990 and that there is as yet no tangible contribution being made by transport as a whole towards meeting the Scottish Government’s own ambitious emissions reduction targets.

[220] The Committee has only addressed this issue in very general terms as part of its budget scrutiny. However, it considers that the forthcoming scrutiny by the Parliament of the second Report on Proposals and Policies (RPP) – estimated to be in early 2013 – presents a suitable opportunity to review progress on reducing emissions from transport and to identify what further action needs to be taken to deliver the change necessary. The Committee therefore hopes to consider this important matter further once the draft RPP is published by the Scottish Government.

*Preventative Spend

The ICI Committee [para 199 above] rightly highlighted the value of active travel investment as ‘preventative spend’ – which is supposedly a key government priority – pointing out that there are significant economic benefits (including public health) resulting and which are not being considered in the divvying up of the transport budget.   Spokes commented on this point in our submission to Finance Committee [Section B, Q6].

We are disappointed, however, that active travel has received no real government acceptance as preventative spend.  This is reflected in the Finance Committee budget report, where active travel is not included in the government’s preventative spend initiatives [report paras 126-137] and nor is preventative spend mentioned in the short section on active travel [169-171].

 

 

 

 

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