September 2013

Budget bewilderment

The Scottish Government’s draft budget seems likely to increase cycling investment in 2014/15, a very welcome development, albeit that it will still be far below what is needed to reach the government’s own 2020 cycle-use ambitions.  However, the budget details are hugely obscure, and only after further announcements will greater clarity, hopefully, emerge.


Spokes has frequently highlighted the obscurity of the budget as regards cycling and active travel, and our view was supported by Parliament’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee – see appendix 1 of our commentary on last year’s budget process.

In our commentary we pointed out that this obscurity can benefit the government – but it is perhaps now at last also becoming a source of embarrassment.  Following this year’s budget announcement Green MSP Patrick Harvie again asked Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP for greater transparency on active travel investment.  Mr Swinney, author of the budget, replied that he sympathised with Mr Harvie! – in effect acknowledging that the facts are far from clear.


Click here for the full budget document.

Click here for the budget statement and questions.   Questions on active travel by Patrick Harvie MSP and Jim Eadie MSP are pasted in below at the end of this article.

Following the budget debate the government agency  Transport Scotland stated that the budget includes  “an additional £20 million over the next two years, for investment in active travel”   but that “detail on how the new funding will be used will be given in due course.”  Other remarks suggest that the £20m comprises £10m for 14/15 and £10m for 15/16.

We can see where £10m extra for 2014/15 probably comes from, but it is difficult to talk of “additional” funds for 2015/16 given that no funding at all for that year had yet been announced! – and it is also difficult to see what could be interpreted as a 2015/16 ‘increase’ in the detailed figures below.

Here are our thoughts on the main relevant budget headings…

Note that figures for 14/15 were first announced as part of a 3-year Spending Review and were repeated (or updated) in last year’s 13/14 budget document.  We assume that ‘increases’ refer to changes from those figures.   Figures for 15/16 have never been announced until this budget statement and so are entirely new.

CWSS – Cycling, Walking and Safer Streets – budget table 12.03

Allocated to councils, based on population size, CWSS money forms the bedrock of cycling investment in Scotland, ensuring at least some cycling work in virtually every council.  Councils decide how to use CWSS, but our surveys [e.g. see Spokes 114] suggest that on average 40%-45% goes to cycling investment [much of this in fact shared walk/cycle facilities].

Total CWSS was £9m a year when the SNP came to power, but they cut it year by year, down to just £5.6m in 13/14.  Under the 3-year Spending Review it was due to return to £8.2m for 14/15, and the budget confirms that.  The budget also indicates £8.0m for 15/16.

FTF – Future Transport Fund – budget table 9.09

FTF includes £18.7m for 14/15, as announced last year, and £20.2m for 15/16.

FTF includes money for public transport, active travel, low carbon vehicles and more – but there is no breakdown in the budget.  Subsequent to last year’s budget it emerged that £4.5m of the £18.7m would go to cycling infrastructure.  Since the £18.7m total is unchanged, it seems likely that the £4.5m for cycling is unchanged.

SAT – Sustainable and Active Travel – budget table 9.07

This is a multi-multi-purpose budget line, rather like FTF but even more confusing.  Surely SAT and FTF could have been combined, and this larger total then split into understandable and publicly transparent chunks!

SAT used to cover walking, cycling, low carbon vehicles, car club, car sharing, etc, etc, and was at least fairly consistent year-to-year.   Then the government decided to add in two major public transport projects, Glasgow Fastlink, and Halbeath Park and Ride, resulting in total SAT veering wildly up and down from one year to the next.

SAT jumped from £16m in 12/13 to £35m in 13/14 and last year was budgeted to be £19m in 14/15.  However, this year’s budget shows it at £29m in 14/15 then down to £15m in 15/16.   With Fastlink and Halbeath complete, the 15/16 figure may be returning to the original meaning of SAT.

The rise of 14/15 SAT from £19m to £29m probably represents this year’s additional £10m for active travel – although given the wide scope of SAT this will not be certain till the details are announced.   [There is an added complication in that this ‘increase’ may well include some previously announced January 2013 Consequentials money, but we will not go into that!].

As mentioned earlier, however, it is difficult to see an ‘increase’ in 2015/16.  If it is in the SAT budget line, then SAT would have been a mere £5m without the increase!!  Perhaps, however the 15/16 £10m ‘increase’ comes from FTF (above) – in which case it would imply a cut in some other ‘sustainable transport’ purposes of that fund.  Or perhaps some is from SAT and some from FTF.


Given that not all active travel investment is relevant to cycling, and with various other qualifications, our extremely rough guesstimate is that total cycling investment in Scotland in 2014/15 could be around £27m, compared to just over £20m in 13/14.

That would represent an increase from roughly 1% of the total transport budget in 13/14 to perhaps 1.4% in 14/15 – compared to our estimate that at least 5% is needed to give any hope of the government meeting its 2020 cycle use ambitions.

Data for 2015/16 is still too obscure to attempt even a guesstimate of the percentage!


Click here for the budget statement and all questions.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): If the Government intends to raise active travel up its agenda, which would be welcome after the many tragedies that we have seen, what are we to make of the fact that the statement commits £60 million to active travel over the next two years while the budget line on sustainable and active travel commits only £44 million, along with other opaque budget lines such as the future transport fund line? Is it not time for a single, clear and transparent budget line on active travel, so that everybody who is looking at these documents knows what the Government intends to spend public money on?

John Swinney: I have some sympathy with the position that Mr Harvie articulates. I accept that, in the budget documents, elements of expenditure can appear in different policy areas. I have to try to manage a balance between that and ensuring that the Parliament can see the structure of the budget on a comparative basis year by year in a fashion that the Parliament generally believes to be acceptable. The portfolio approach is, by agreement with the Finance Committee, the way in which the budget should be set out.
On other occasions and in light of the point that Mr Harvie has raised with me, I am happy to marshal some of the information in a clearer fashion that identifies the support that is in place on cycling, to provide it to him and to place it in the Scottish Parliament information centre, because elements of budgets that come in from different portfolios contribute to a stronger, better and more effective approach on cycling than in the previous provisions that I brought to the Parliament.
I acknowledged and accepted that we needed to do more to encourage cycling. We have done that in the budget and I will happily share the evidence and analysis with Mr Harvie and the Parliament.


Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP): Does the cabinet secretary agree that the additional £20 million investment in cycling will be widely welcomed by cycling organisations throughout Scotland? That increase is not an accident but has come about as a result of a Government that is willing to listen and act upon the concerns that were expressed by cyclists in Scotland.

John SwinneyI appreciate Mr Eadie’s comments. Mr Eadie has been vociferous—along with Alison Johnstone—when coming to see me about cycling and cycling investment issues and I am glad that we have been able to make some progress on that question in the budget settlement. There are opportunities for us to ensure that that money is used effectively to strengthen cycling infrastructure in Scotland and I assure the Parliament that ministers will be keen to do so as part of the discussions around the budget and the implementation of the commitments that we have made.


Comments are closed.