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£5m Budget Speech Error

Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney MSP, made a £5m error in his budget speech to MSPs – though by amending the draft budget he could wipe out the mistake…

Speaking to MSPs in the annual Budget Speech on October 9, as reported in the Official Record, John Swinney (who is now also Deputy First Minister) promised…

an additional £10 million next year for cycling and walking infrastructure

Detailed correspondence with Mr Swinney [below] has revealed that £5m of this cash is not for infrastructure, but for ‘Smarter Choices, Smarter Places – a project which aims to win people over to greener modes of travel (not even just walking & cycling, but also bus, car-share, etc) primarily by behaviour change methods – such as publicity and personal travel planning.

Spokes has no objection to the SCSP project, and indeed several councils and others have welcomed it, but no way does it meet the Cabinet Secretary’s public commitment to money for infrastructure – a commitment which was widely reported in the press at the time of the budget.

The budget content is fairly obscure but Spokes identified that the “additional £10m” was made up of two sums of £5m from different sources.  First was the SCSP money above, which is not for infrastructure.  The second £5m comes from a complex new funding method called ‘Financial Transactions.’   In his letter to us, Mr Swinney promises that if the FT complexity proves too great he will find a replacement £5m to use for infrastructure, and so we can presumably take it that this second half of the £10m genuinely is for infrastructure.  Whether or not this is a concession as a result of our first letter, or was intended all along, we will never know!

It is also worth noting that the £5m SCSP money was already pre-announced last June  from underspending on the new Forth Road Bridge.  For this and other reasons it is arguable to what extent the £10m is “additional.”  It is genuinely additional in the sense used by Mr Swinney – i.e. it is money for 15/16 which is additional to that which was provisionally allocated for 15/16 at the time of last year’s budget.  However in our view a truer comparison is with what was actually invested in walking and cycling in 14/15, and on this basis cycling investment looks set to fall in 15/16, even with the £10m included.

Thus use of the word “additional” in Mr Swinney’s speech cannot be said definitively to be wrong – though it is certainly arguable.  However, saying that the £10m is for “infrastructure” is certainly incorrect in respect of the £5m SCSP element.  Spokes has written again to Mr Swinney asking him to amend the draft budget before it is finalised, finding a further £5m for infrastructure so that his statement to MSPs is correct.

The correspondence

A PQ

Claudia Beamish MSP, a deputy convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Cycling Group, has taken up our case and is asking the following Parliamentary Question [S4W-23366] …

To ask the Scottish Government whether the additional £10 million active travel infrastructure announced in the budget speech is included in the draft budget 2015-16.

The Importance of Infrastructure

There are many examples from around the world – but the hunger for improved cycling infrastructure in Scotland, and the necessity of stronger government funding to incentivise local councils, was beautifully illustrated at our recent public meeting on cycling developments in the Lothians – see here.

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.

Of course, whilst the Government should modify the draft budget to provide the missing £5m of the promised £10m infrastructure investment, this would still leave total active travel investment at around 2% of total transport spending – it needs to be nearer 10%!

Please email your MSPs now – explain why cycling infrastructure investment matters to you – and to them.

 

 

 

 

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