Officers responsible for cycling projects in councils around Scotland beg every year for certainty and clarity about what funding will be available in future years, so they can plan sensibly. But certainty and clarity are looking increasingly unlikely for next financial year, 2016/17…
We are not saying cycle funding will be cut as compared to 2015/16. It may rise, it may fall, it may stay the same – but it’s looking as if no one will know until shortly before the new financial year begins, and even then there may be confusion. As a result, there may be less cycle projects. In particular, late announcements threaten the likelihood and the viability of bolder and more substantial projects.
Significant cycle projects often require considerable advance work and staff time – planning; consulting with the public, local groups, utilities, road frontagers, etc; traffic regulation orders; land aquisition; and so on. Councils are unlikely to set such projects in motion if there is big uncertainty as to what cash will be available to actually build the scheme.
In 2013 the government announced some basic cycle funding for 2 years ahead. The 14/15 sum was later increased following extensive campaigning, but the certainty of the basic allocation was hugely welcomed by council cycle officers and by Sustrans, who administer most of the cash. Now, however, we are back to the position of knowing nothing about funding after the current financial year.
Here are the main problems and uncertainties…
Budget date drastic delay
The Scottish draft budget is usually published September/October, but this year it is being delayed till January – just 3 months before the new financial year begins on 1st April. There is normally a 3-4 month period of consultation and scrutiny before a final budget is approved by the Scottish Parliament. Although the draft budget is often amended, and is rarely sufficiently clear on cycling, it does at least give an early likely base figure for active travel and an opportunity to campaign for improvement.
This year, even if scrutiny and consultation are drastically curtailed, the final budget is likely to be significantly later than usual – and campaigning options will be greatly lessened.
The Scottish Government has delayed the draft budget to await a UK Spending Review, not expected till 25 November, as this will affect Scotland’s total cash available.
This however is no reason why the Scottish Government could not give at least an element of certainty on cycle funding. For example, it could copy Edinburgh Council’s innovative and widely-praised policy of allocating a minimum % of total transport spending to cycling. Similarly the government has already felt able to promise to cut Air Passenger Duty (by 50%) in future – even though it is not known how this will be done, whether by raising other taxes or by transferring cash out of other projects.
Budget confusion to continue?
The Scottish Government has been repeatedly urged (including by Parliament’s own Infrastructure Committee and of course by Spokes) to make the budget far clearer as to how much funding will go to cycling (and to active travel). Cycle funding comes from multiple ‘lines’ in the budget, particularly Sustainable and Active Travel and the Future Transport Fund [FTF]. The amount from these lines which goes to cycling can vary drastically from year to year and is often not fully revealed till much later (and sometimes not even until into the financial year in which it is to be spent). It was not until 25 March 2015 that the government announced that a big £10m 50% chunk of the 2015/16 FTF would go to cycling – i.e. a few days before the start of the financial year in which it was to be spent.
The government has been widely urged to package the main cycling (or active travel) cash sources under one dedicated heading, to provide clarity. However, they have now announced that the FTF will continue. Thus rather than a restructuring of the transport budget it seems we are set for continuing confusion. In many ways this suits the government, as having a general FTF ‘pot’ enables them to delay decisions on whether to fund cycling, electric buses, travel planning, or whatever, till the last minute.
The FTF means that the government seems likely to continue to treat cycling as a marginal will we/won’t we form of transport rather than a mode with its own secure, clear and known funding. There is a case for an FTF for innovative and exemplar projects but with a government aim of 10% of all trips to be by bike, the bulk of cycling funding should be mainstreamed.
This year’s budget [2015/16]
After many years in which government cycling investment was under 1% of Scottish transport spending, it rose to 1.9% in 14/15. The present year, 15/16, is currently showing a fall back to 1.7% [Spokes 122, page 6] – but Transport Minister Derek Mackay MSP promised at Pedal on Parliament to find more cash, so that 15/16 cycling investment would be the highest ever. On our reckoning [see Spokes 122 link above] that would need another £3m or so minimum.
We still await an announcement on the additional funding – and we are now nearly half way through the financial year in which it will have to be used.
Stop Press 16.9.15: Derek Mackay at the Sustrans 2-year NCN reception publicly repeated his promise that 15/16 funding will at least equal that of 14/15, but, despite the advanced stage in the financial year, he gave no indication of when and how the additional funding will be found.
The Future – Holyrood Parliament elections
Holyrood elections are due on 5 May 2016. It will be vital to get commitments on cycling into party manifestos, and active travel groups are working towards a common position on this. A top proposal is: 10% of transport spending going to active travel, as first recommended back in 2008 by over 100 organisations, ranging from the Institute of Highway Engineers to the British Heart Foundation, led by the Association of Directors of Public Health. If Edinburgh Council can allocate 10% of its transport budget to cycling by the end of its term of office, so should the Scottish Government.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Email your MSPs – find them at www.writetothem.com. Here are some questions you might ask – but use your own words and say why it matters to you and your area…
- What has happened to the Transport Minister’s promise to exceed 14/15 cycling investment in 15/16? It’ll soon be too late to use new money effectively.
- What assurance can the government give about the level of cycling investment in 16/17 – will it equal or exceed 15/16?
- Will the 16/17 budget clearly show what is allocated for cycling?
- Will your MSP argue for their party manifesto to promise 10% of transport investment going to cycling or active travel.