Spokes has written to John Swinney MSP, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, over fears of a severe decline in cycling infrastructure investment in 2015/16 unless the draft Scottish budget is revised – and despite the ‘increase’ implied by his budget speech.
We have already expressed concern over the fact that, yet again, the amounts allocated to active travel, and cycling in particular, are not at all transparent in the draft budget – and over our fear that total 15/16 cycling investment looks likely to fall from 14/15 levels.
On further investigation the position looks significantly worse – particularly as regards infrastructure investment, i.e. the sort of projects which Sustrans match-funds with Councils and other public bodies. Spokes has therefore written to challenge Mr Swinney on these concerns [pdf 195k].
In our Edinburgh area, these are the sort of funds that have helped upgrade the canal towpath and are helping fund the ongoing Canal-Meadows-Innocent segregated route plans, Leith Walk, and so on. Without Sustrans funding continuing on at least a similar level, Council plans for a major east-west city centre route, Roseburn to Leith, or for connecting the North Edinburgh Network to the Canal, will be severely delayed.
In his 9 October budget speech, Mr Swinney promised [our emphases]…
Our overall investments in schools, digital infrastructure, energy efficiency, health and transport, including an additional £10 million next year for cycling and walking infrastructure, target projects that will make the economy more productive, with assets that deliver greater energy efficiency and better outcomes.
The commitment to an additional £10m specifically for cycling and walking infrastructure, creating new assets, sounds very clear indeed and was widely reported in the media in those terms. It appeared that this funding would be for the type of projects mentioned above, in the same way that the £20m (over 2 years) announced for infrastructure in last year’s budget is now being used.
We now understand, however, that £5m of the £10m is in fact the £5m already announced by Mr Swinney in June, from Forth Bridge underspending, to be used in the 15/16 budget to develop behaviour change, i.e. not for infrastructure. The press release at that time said…
In addition, £5 million to develop behaviour change aspects of the Smarter Choices Smarter Places programme will be included in the draft Budget for 2015/16.
Secondly, the other £5m of the new £10m is in the unusual form of ‘Financial Transactions‘ money. We are not entirely clear what this means, but the Budget Spice Briefing [14/70, page 9] states that these funds can only be used “beyond the public sector.” That, we presume, means they cannot be used for the type of infrastructure work with local authorities and other public sector partners which Sustrans undertakes.
So, overall, it is far from clear how much, if indeed any, of the £10m will be available for infrastructure spending under the normal meaning of that term – despite Mr Swinney’s budget speech above.
Once again the task of Sustrans and local authorities attempting to plan for the future and to build up cycle planning expertise is thrown into uncertainty – and with only 6 months or so till the start of the 15/16 financial year.
The new £10m certainly is additional in the sense that it is £10m more than had been indicated in advance for 15/16 in last year’s budget statement. However, it is not additional to actual 14/15 cycling investment – which anyone listening to the speech would have assumed.
Cycling investment in 14/15 included several ‘extras’ for infrastructure which are no longer available in 15/16 – namely £7m from Forth Bridge underspending plus £4m and £2.8m from other sources [see our letter]. Set against these 14/15 extras, the ‘additional’ £10m (even if it were entirely for infrastructure) represents an actual decline of nearly £4m in infrastructure investment in 15/16 compared to 14/15.
We hope to do another article shortly summarising how and why we think cycling investment will fall in 15/16 copmpared to 14/15.
The government could retrieve the position in various ways. Our top suggestion is the massive trunk roads budget, which rises from £639m in 14/15 to £695m in 15/16. Alternatively, the Future Transport Fund has £20.25m available, of which £5m is provisionally allocated to walking and cycling infrastructure – but this could be bumped up substantially. And there are many other options.
Finally, whilst we are very concerned about the above technicalities and uncertainties, and their real-world impact on cycling projects, it is also vital to remember the big picture. Even if all John Swinney’s £10m did go to infrastructure, or, better, even if infrastructure spending did remain at the same level as in 14/15, this is nowhere near adequate to meet the government’s super-ambitious wish to raise cycle use by 2020 from 1%-2% of all journeys to 10%. More about this in our next post.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
We are now only at the start of the budget process. Pressure from MSPs on the government can change things – as cycling organisations have achieved in some previous years – notably the first SNP budget, which initially proposed serious cuts in cycling investment.