December 2016

Scottish Govt draft 17/18 budget fails 2020 test

Update 27.1.17: Scottish Parliament REC Committee report on the draft budget quotes our submission and asks ScotGov to set out plans to “increase funding for active travel in order to make tangible progress towards meeting its stated targets.” 

The draft 17/18 budget just fulfils the SNP manifesto promise to maintain active travel investment at least at current levels – but it fails miserably on the manifesto’s “determination to meet our vision of 10 per cent of everyday journeys being made by bike by 2020.”

Active travel [AT] investment in 17/18 is budgeted at £39m, the same as 16/17, but since total transport spending rises from £2210m to £2376m (largely due to big rises for trunk roads) the proportion going to AT falls from 1.8% to just 1.6%.

The increase in trunk road cash since last year is almost 4 times the total  for cycling and  walking across the whole of Scotland.

Breaking all records!!

The government prides itself on £39m being record investment in cycling and walking but this is re-playing the same record as last year – and it is as nothing compared to the record spending on motorways and trunk roads

Analysis of Scottish Government draft 17-18 budget by the independent Scottish Parliament Information Service, SPICe

  • rising from £616m in 10/11 (and £520m in 11/12) to £967m for 17/18 [Budget Document, Annex G]
  • up 18% from £821m in 16/17 to £967m in 17/18 [table 11.12]
  • despite the Forth Crossing nearing the end of construction, trunk-road building (i.e. excluding costs such as maintainance) rises 20% from £420m in 16/17 to £503m in 17/18 – and this, if we have understood it properly, is in addition to private finance capital [table 11.12].

Scottish air travel support (mainly for the islands) remains static at around £60m – but for UK and international air travel the government plans a record new annual £300m subsidy by halving and then scrapping air passenger duty [chapter 2] – with no indication which part of future budgets will be cut to pay for this.

Ministerial pledges

The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay MSP, and the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown MSP, both now in positions of top financial influence, were successive Transport Ministers in the last Parliament.   In those roles they both made a pledge:  Derek Mackay in a letter replying to a member of the public said this…


Now £146m funding has “become available”  to increase the trunk roads budget – did the two Ministers make “the strongest case”  for even a fraction of that sum “to be allocated to cycling” ??    We need to know!!

Derek Mackay, in particular, as Cabinet Secretary for Finance, is the Scottish “Chancellor of the Exchequer,” responsible for constructing the Scottish Government’s draft budget and presenting it to Parliament.

Cycle use in 2020

Spokes hugely supports  the Scottish Government’s avowed wish for 10% of everyday journeys to be by bike.  However the sums allocated to AT in this and previous budgets make it patently clear that the SNP manifesto’s “determination” to achieve this aim by 2020 has become just a slogan – and indeed it has never relied on an evidence-based and costed programme.

Ever since the 2020 10% cycle-use “vision” was first announced in 2009, Spokes has urged an evidence-based and costed programme to achieve it – this has never happened, and instead the mantra has just been repeated, even as the years progressed and it became wholly clear that funding levels had made 10% quite unachievable by 2020.

Fortunately there are one or two local authorities [e.g. Edinburgh and Inverness] where there is hope of reaching 10% of work trips by bike by 2020 – though not 10% of all everyday trips – but there is no way it is now possible for all Scotland.

The Spokes pre-budget submission to the Parliamentary Committee dealing with transport looks at the evidence and suggests that in order to reach the 10% all-Scotland ambition in a reasonable number of years, though now well beyond 2020, the government must consistently provide European levels of cycling investment – around £20 per person per year for cycling alone (the AT total would need to be higher to cover walk schemes too).   In our submission we estimate that current annual Scottish government cycling investment, as opposed to AT as a whole, is very approximately £4.50 per person – way under £20.

Active travel in the budget – where to find it

As in previous years, the budget document is highly opaque regarding where AT cash comes from and so, like last year, it includes an estimate of the AT total – “approximately £39m”  [page 132].   From other sources Spokes can give a likely rough breakdown of the 3 main relevant budget lines from which the £39m is sourced…

CWSS [Cycling Walking Safer Streets]  16/17 £5.9m -> 17/18 £7.4m [table 11.15]

CWSS is allocated to all Scottish Councils on the basis of population, and councils use anything from 20% to 100% of it for cycling infrastructure.  This year sees a promised rise, to balance out a cut last year.  Across Scotland roughly 75% of CWSS goes to cycling and walking, with the rest to other schemes under the Safer Streets heading (e.g. traffic management).

CWSS is a critical budget line as, tragically, around half of all councils put no capital of their own into cycling infrastructure and rely entirely on their CWSS allocation and any Sustrans or other external money they can raise.  Years ago, under the previous Lab/Lib administration CWSS rose to over £9m for a couple of years, but under SNP governments it has fluctuated between roughly £5.5m-£8m.

SSAT [Sustainable and Active Travel]  16/17 £36m -> 17/18 £33.9m [table 11.13]

The £33.9m SSAT is split into £20.4m capital and £13.5m revenue [Level 4 spreadsheet] but it is not yet known how much of each will go to AT.  In 16/17 AT was expected to receive roughly £14m capital and £8.5m revenue from the £36m total.  The remaining SSAT cash goes to other ‘sustainable transport’ such as electric vehicles, car clubs and bus innovation – in the past, some even went to the costly Glasgow Fastlink bus scheme.

FTF [Future Transport Fund]  16/17 £20.25m -> 17/18 £25.3m [table 11.13]

This capital fund covers very similar areas to SAT, with roughly half going to AT in 16/17, the remainder to bus developments and rail freight.

As in previous years, we fail to see the logic of the SAT/FTF split – much more sensible would be to replace the SAT and FTF budget lines by one budget line for active travel and one for other sustainable transport.


There are other uncertainties in the “approximately £39m” that goes to AT, though they probably balance out, leaving £39m as a “best guess” for total government AT cash.

On the plus side, additional cash goes into AT from the trunk roads budget (we guesstimate roughly £2m a year) and AT also benefits from some of the government’s separate £5m Smarter Choices budget (shifting people away from single-occupant car trips).

On the minus side, the government counts all of CWSS in the £39m, whereas not all is strictly active travel.  Similarly some of the Sustrans ‘placemaking’ expenditure serves wider functions than just promoting walking and cycling.

What are we losing out on?

The greatest part of government cycling (and AT) investment is through the Sustrans Community Links and Community Links Plus schemes, both of which allocate funds to Councils and others on the basis of competitive bids.  Funds are provided on a 50/50 basis.

High quality bids to Sustrans – particularly those in the Plus scheme – greatly outweigh the cash available.   For example, in the current 16/17 competition ten bids, all considered to be “high quality,” have been shortlisted – but the available cash is likely only to fund one or perhaps two projects.

Edinburgh alone has a list of major projects needing significant funding, including the East-West city centre route, Roseburn to Canal, Meadows to Canal, Meadows to George Street, and many smaller projects.   This pattern is increasingly repeated in other councils across Scotland.

Related links
What you can do
  • Email your MSP(s) as soon as possible.  As the SNP does not have an overall majority, they must get budget support from at least one other party, and there will be intensive negotiations over the next few weeks before an amended draft budget is voted on.   Therefore it is worth emailing your MSPs, whatever their party, to ask them to make increased cycle funding a condition of supporting the budget.
  • Visit your MSP.   In your email, if you are happy to do this, say to your MSP that you would be happy to meet them to discuss the issue further at their surgery or elsewhere.  Very few people do this, and so it can sometimes be especially effective.
  • Ask interested friends and colleagues to contact their MSPs about cycling investment.
  • Retweet our tweet about this article and our tweet about the Parliament’s REC Committee recommendation for increased funding.


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