In a detailed reponse to the Scottish Government’s draft budget 2015-16, MSPs on the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee (ICI) recommend that the government consider “substantial additional funding” to roll out sustainable and active travel projects…
The Committee’s detailed scrutiny and evidence-taking focussed on how the draft budget did or did not contribute to 3 of the government’s own National Indicators …
- reducing Scotland’s carbon footprint [relevant transport measures]
- reducing traffic congestion
- increasing the proportion of journeys to work by public or active travel.
The Committee’s conclusions were not comfortable for the government! Although phrased diplomatically, the Committee appears basically to be saying that the draft budget is if anything likely to move all 3 indicators in the wrong direction.
It is important to remember that the ICI Committee has a majority of members from the ruling SNP, which gives added weight to its critical conclusions.
The ICI report makes many useful recommendations. Below we briefly list some of the major issues concerning us, with references  to the relevant paragraphs in the report. References in bold type  refer to recommendations and those in ordinary type  refer to evidence reported in the main text of the report.
Active travel (AT) funding
Summarising witness evidence, the Committee reports, “it would appear that there is an overall reduction in the funding of public, sustainable and active travel, which witnesses criticised … would lead to greater GHG emissions, likely to increase traffic congestion and limit the emerging signs of growth in levels of active travel journeys” .
However, just to avoid AT cuts is far from sufficient. The Committee refers to strong consensus amongst witnesses on the need to substantially raise AT investment, and the evidence that 10% of the transport budget [£200m annually] would be an appropriate level .
Year 2015 is expected to see a Spending Review to map out overall government budget priorities for the next few years . In advance of this, the Committee recommends that government should “systematically re-evaluate the level of funding for sustainable and active travel. This should take into account the wide range of benefits associated with increasing levels of sustainable active travel to support a move towards more predictable, strategically focussed and higher levels of funding … Substantial additional funding should be considered“ .
The Committee implies that very substantial cash can be made available if the government so chooses, stating that the funding problem “has been overcome in other transport areas where a priority need has been identified, such as the new Forth crossing” .
Importantly, the SP Finance Committee, in their overall report on the draft budget [para 182] reiterated the point.. “The ICI Committee recommends that in advance of the next spending review the Government should “systematically re-evaluate the level of funding for sustainable and active travel.””
Trunk road spending
Whilst hedging its words carefully, the Committee was clearly dubious as to how the government’s huge spend on trunk road expansion could be compatible with its social and environmental policies . Evidence suggested that current trunk road policies would lead to higher emissions and more congestion .
Policies to promote electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles had potential for emissions reduction if handled wisely, but without parallel traffic-demand reduction were at risk of increasing congestion and car-use, and reducing the incentive to shift to active and public transport .
The Committee recommended a priority for traffic-demand reduction and for traffic management measures, rather than relying largely on road expansion and electric vehicles. “Future investments in the road networks, road vehicles and demand reduction should be targeted to balance the social and economic benefits of improved connectivity within Scotland with its social, economic and environmental costs” .
Importantly, the Finance Committee, in its above overall report [para 181] highlighted the ICI Committee recommendation that the Government should “give greater priority at the next spending review to investing in traffic demand reduction and traffic management measures.”
Active travel funding confusion
For the n’th successive year, the Committee complains to the government about the lack of transparency in the draft budget over how much is being invested in AT, and whether it is rising or falling [38-40].
Evidence from the Spokes submission to the Committee is quoted in detail, in which we analyse how the promise in then Cabinet Secretary John Swinney’s budget speech of “an additional £10m for walking and cycling infrastructure” falls apart [our words!] on closer investigation .
This year the Committee goes further, showing that not only is the draft budget opaque on AT, but the linkage between the budget and the government’s climate change reduction ambitions is also highly obscure.
Amongst its recommendations on the above, the Committee speaks almost directly from the Spokes submission, recommending that “Support for Sustainable and Active Travel, be separated into Support for Sustainable Travel and Support for Active Travel in future draft budgets and climate change mitigation measures reports” . [though we add that the Future Transport Fund should also be abolished and its cash added into the above two proposed new budget lines].
Greenhouse gas emissions
Witnesses pointed out that the government had missed its emissions targets every year so far, and the draft budget gave no sign of the joined-up-thinking and investment “step change” needed to achieve that . The Government should “undertake a systematic review of the consequences of its current and future infrastructure programmes and policies in relation to meeting its GHG emissions targets” .
Furthermore, the current ‘carbon assessment’ of the impact of spending plans is now highly deficient in that it only considers the immediate emissions impact of the spending, not the long-term impact. For example it considers emissions due to road construction, but not to future road use and traffic growth [19-26]. The Committee recommends a “lifecycle” approach to calculating emissions from budget programmes and states that the “present approach to carbon assessment results in an absence of important information and evidence during the budget scrutiny period, which severely curtails the effectiveness of this important Parliamentary process” .
The Government will respond to the ICI and other Committees, and there will be a final debate and vote on the draft 2015-16 budget, probably early in February. Until that point, there will be intensive negotiations between the parties on last-minute budget changes. Despite having a majority the government always tries to persuade other parties to support the budget – or at least abstain – rather than voting against. This has resulted in AT funding boosts in 2 of the last 4 years, thanks to large numbers of members of the public lobbying their MSPs.
Finance Committee report on the draft budget 2015-16 [the above ICI Cttee report is also available in Annexe C of the Finance Cttee report]