February 2020
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Scottish Budget 20/21

A deal has been struck between the Greens and SNP to get the budget through Parliament. The deal is a significant improvement on the draft budget in terms of transport, including some interesting detailed points as well as the headline changes.

To be clear, Spokes remains very unhappy with some aspects of the transport budget: notably continuing trunk road expansion. In particular £6000m over the coming years to entirely dual the A96 and A9, despite..

  • Climate emergency – the climate emergency declaration and powerful recommendations on cutting back on road-building by government-commissioned expert groups such as the Infrastructure Commission [extracts on p5 of Spokes Bulletin 136]
  • Economic justifications – these have been shown to be very dubious – including a calculation of £430m “to reduce driver frustration”
  • Safety – the A9 is now one of Scotland’s safer trunk roads [all parts of the A9 fall into the lowest 2 of the 5 Eurorap ‘A’-road safety categories] thanks to the introduction of average speed cameras. If cash is available for safety improvements, the Eurorap report shows that there are many more dangerous ‘A’ roads in Scotland
  • Traffic growth – traffic growth will continue, adding not just emissions, but yet more congestion and road damage in our towns and cities
  • Opportunity cost – i.e. the many other uses to which the cash could be put, to encourage modal shift to public and active transport. Not least the parallel rail route between Inverness and the Central Belt, which is to remain single-track
  • However – in her letter on the Deal, the Finance Secretary says, “… in producing the forthcoming Infrastructure Investment Plan we will work to align strategic investment decisions with the recommendations of the Infrastructure Commission and to ensure that they are compatible with the Climate Change Plan and our statutory obligations to reduce emissions …” If these assessments are done honestly, can trunk road expansion survive?
The Budget Deal

Despite our concerns above, the Green/SNP deal brings some very positive developments on other aspects of the draft 20/21 budget. The deal is laid out in this letter from Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP to Green Group Leader Patrick Harvie MSP. The transport-related aspects include the following…

  • Active Travel cash – a further £15m, bringing the total to £100m compared to £80m in current year 19/20. Whilst still well below the best European levels, this represents around £20 per head of population. Whereas active travel was to fall to 2.8% of total transport spending, it will now be 3.3%, its highest ever – albeit far behind Edinburgh’s 10% policy and the 10% ask of the many Scottish organisations supporting WalkCycleVote.
  • Cycling Walking Safer Streets (CWSS) – Interestingly, instead of increasing the usual ‘Places for Everyone’ budgets, the £15m is apparently allocated direct to Councils, which we assume means boosting the CWSS fund (from £8.9m to £23.9m). This has both plusses and minuses! For years smaller councils have complained they can’t apply for Sustrans 50/50 funding because they don’t have enough matching cash. Now they have it! Negatively, a few councils have used CWSS cash for ‘safer streets’ projects which seem more concerned with car convenience than supporting cycle/walk. We understand the government is looking into tightening this up – and of course if used for matched projects then it must meet Sustrans Scotland design principles.
  • Free Bus Travel – A real game-changer – free bus travel for those aged 18 and under, starting January 2021. We suggest this is extended (the cost would be very low) to include free membership of local authority-sponsored bike rental schemes, such as Edinburgh Cycle Hire. Bus for longer journeys, bike for local trips.
  • Local Authority Funding – Councils will be allocated an additional £95m to use as they see fit (particular needs urged by Councils were child poverty and the climate emergency). Whilst council cuts are still likely, this allocation will reduce pressures on councils, and help preserve other budgets (perhaps potholes!)
  • Dunfermline-Alloa rail – £5m is allocated to investigate a passenger line here
  • Sheriffhall Roundabout – The project will be reviewed. It seems likely some form of project will go ahead, but with substantial changes including public transport priority across and along the bypass, as urged by Edinburgh Council. Spokes will also continue to urge that connecting cycle routes (to Bioquarter, Dalkeith, Shawfair, etc) are included in the project fundingnot leaving it up to Edinburgh, Midlothian and Sustrans to find the cycleroute cash.
Your role in the budget debate
  • If you emailed your MSPs about the draft budget, as we suggested, thank you! These letters encourage opposition parties to include active travel in budget amendments, and encourage the government to agree to such changes.
  • If you found the above article interesting please retweet here.

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