December 2015

Scottish Budget : councils’ cycling hit

The Scottish budget 2016/17 promises that active travel cash will be at or just below its 2015/16 level.   Further investigation, however, suggests that the budget’s impact on local council cycling provision could be significantly worse than the overall figure suggests.

We have identified 3 reasons why this may happen…

The CWSS 25% cut

CWSS, the Cycling Walking & Safer Streets fund, is distributed between all Scottish Councils on the basis of their population, and has to be used for purposes reflecting its name.   The government recommends that councils use a minimum 36% of CWSS for cycling projects.   Our estimate is that in Scotland as a whole around 50% goes on cycling (including cycle/walk), 25% on pure walking and 25% on ‘safer streets,’ though the proportions vary drastically from one council to another.

Whilst overall cycling cash in the 16/17 budget is only declining slightly, the CWSS element is being slashed by 25% – from £8m in 15/16 to just £5.9m in 16/17.  Years ago, under the previous Lab/Lib administration it rose to over £9m, but under subsequent SNP governments it has fluctuated between roughly £5.5m-£8m.  Indeed the first (minority) SNP government attempted to scrap CWSS altogether, but was persuaded of its necessity by a massive campaign followed by an ultimatum from Patrick Harvie MSP, whose vote was needed to pass the overall budget.

CWSS is the most basic active travel funding, guaranteed to councils for that purpose, and the only cycling cash to go direct from government to councils.   Without CWSS some councils (regrettably) would invest nothing in cycling, unless they could raise other external funds [e.g. see p6/7 of Spokes 120].

Most importantly, nearly all councils use CWSS cash to raise additional outside money through ‘matched funding’ projects, with bodies such as Sustrans, Scottish Canals, or EU schemes.   Thus a 25% cut in CWSS means councils are likely to lose the same amount again in lost match funds.

Community Links Plus

In October, Transport Minister Derek Mackay MSP announced an exciting new competition for ‘exemplar’ on-road segregated cycling projects (in two councils at the most).   Later it was announced that the competition would be run via the Sustrans Community Links scheme and would be known as Community Links Plus.

Community Links is currently the biggest source of cash in Scotland for council cycling projects, running since 2010 and having funded over 500 projects so far, some in every council area.  It provides 50/50 matched funding, thus encouraging councils and other recipients to find more cash for cycling from other sources.

We had expected that the Minister’s announcement meant new funding for Community Links Plus, but now rumour has it that it will be funded by cutting back the basic Community Links project.  The budget appears to confirm this, since total cycling cash is static (or falling slightly) – so there would appear to be no new money for Community Links Plus.

As a result, one or two councils, who win the competition, will get exciting and hopefully excellent new infrastructure – but the other 30 or so councils (and other bodies, such as Scottish Canals, who can also bid for Community Links cash) will have a significantly smaller pot to which to apply.

Potholes, road surfaces, lighting …

For safe and convenient cycling, road surfaces must be maintained in good condition, and potholes must be dealt with rapidly and effectively.   However at the same time as massively increasing its own trunk road and motorways budget [up 18% to £820m] the government has chosen to cut the council cash which can be used for maintaining local roads in towns and cities (along with many other council services) – chopped by over 7%.

Thus the budget means more inter-city traffic heading into towns and cities in which there is reduced cash to maintain already fragile road surfaces.

What next … and what you can do

  • Due to late publication of the budget, the Parliament’s ICI Committee [which deals with transport] held pre-budget hearings.  [More details and the Spokes submission here].
  • In January the ICI Committee reports on the draft budget to the Finance Committee.
  • In February the draft budget – along with any changes accepted by the government – goes to a full debate and vote in the Parliament.

The next few days and weeks will see many backroom discussions whilst MSPs try to get changes to the draft budget.   Although the SNP has an overall majority, the Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP is always keen to get budget support – or at least abstention – from other parties, and he is therefore sometimes willing to accept changes which are small in the overall picture.   And at less than 2% of transport spending, active travel certainly is small in the overall budget!!

If you are concerned about what the budget means for cycling – and walking – email your MSPs, briefly setting out your concerns and what you would like to happen.

Our aim is 10% of the total transport budget going to cycling and walking.  That still seems far away, but a mere 1% of this year’s £820m trunk roads budget could mean…

  • £2.1m to avoid cuts in the vital CWSS fund
  • £6.1m to fund the 16/17 element of the Community Links Plus competition without impacting on Scotland’s other 30 local councils.

More info


Comments are closed.