December 2022

Scottish Budget 23/24 & Active Travel

The Scottish Budget 23/24 brings a rise of nearly £40m for active travel [AT], up from 4.3% to 5.3% of the total transport budget.

At first sight this is very encouraging, especially at a time of austerity. However in the context of the SNP/Green ‘Bute House’ agreement, and of the UK Climate Change Committee’s recent excoriating report on Scotland’s lack of progress towards its legally binding emissions targets, the level of the rise is perhaps more questionable.

The following table shows our budget analysis, as far as we can go from the information currently available. Corrections are welcome!

click table for full size

The Bute House agreement – and using the investment effectively

The November 2021 SNP/Green joint Shared Policy Programme (the ‘Bute House’ agreement) included the superb promise that “by 2024-25 at least £320m or 10% of the total transport budget will be allocated to active travel.” The commitment has been repeated in many subsequent documents [Transport Scotland example].

It might have been expected that the rise would be spread fairly evenly over the 22/23 – 24/25 budgets, to allow councils and other implementers to plan effectively and to build up skilled staffing resources. However, as our table above shows, this is far from the case, and so to fulfil the Bute House agreement will require a massive rise in 24/25, posing difficulties for Councils in using it to full effect.

The experience of Ireland, which allocated a remarkable 10% to walking and 10% to cycling in one big leap, is sobering – in the first year 42% of the cash was not used, and additionally many schemes were substandard, due in part to insufficient time for planning and upskilling.

The Scottish Government has at least recognised the issue and set up an Active Travel Transformation Project (ATTP) to ensure the investment is used as effectively as possible – this is a positive and necessary move, but should have been done at the outset, and with the new cash phased in gradually over the four years. Ever since the 2021 agreement Spokes has highlighted these issues, but only recently have the wheels of government started to turn to try and ensure maximum investment effectiveness now and in future.

Leaving the bulk of the cash to a very large increase at the end of the 5-year parliamentary term means a deficit of skilled staffing, planning and political leadership; belated project delivery and belated modal shift. This was discussed further in our posting on last year’s (22/23) budget.

UK Climate Change Committee

The CCC has a duty to report annually on the progress of the Scottish Government towards meeting its legally binding climate targets. The CCC has been criticised in past years for being too weak in its analysis of implementation of the Scottish Government’s targets (not least in transport) whilst praising their ambition in setting tough targets. This year, however, was very different, with a tough report and a particularly tough public presentation of it.

  • “We are running out of time; we are not on track … it is magical thinking” said Chris Stark, Chief Exec of the CCC

Transport in particular is falling badly behind, and is on course to get worse. And, within transport, the commitment to a 20% car-km reduction by 2030 is “significantly off track.”

Slide from UKCCC presentation
[NB: To explain the aviation ‘Not applicable’ … CCC did strongly criticise the absence of ambition to reduce aviation emissions. But, since Scot Govt had set no aviation milestones, CCC shows the ambition as ‘none’ and the progress towards that is therefore ‘N/A’]

Car demand-management is the top requirement to give any hope of meeting the 20% commitment, and the CCC report says: “current plans are lacking a full strategy with sufficient levers to deter car usage, predominantly relying on measures that incentivise low-carbon modes.” However the ‘carrots,’ including active travel, are also essential components – and the delays which we discuss above mean that active travel is still far from being allowed to make its full contribution.

Additionally, CCC recommends how the increasing active travel funding should be used: “the Cycling Framework and Delivery Plan for Active Travel in Scotland … should set out how the increasing funding for active travel will be directed to contribute to reducing car traffic by 20% and delivering 20-minute neighbourhoods.

The budget includes a statement (Annex G) of how it is intended to contribute to Scotland’s climate targets – including through transport – but the issues above are not convincingly answered.

How will the AT cash be used?

The budget, as usual, gives little detail about how the AT cash will be used – that gradually emerges over the weeks and months.

The CWSS (Cycling Walking Safer Streets) element, £23.9m, goes to all Councils on a per-capita basis; they do not have to put in bids for it. Councils can, if they wish, use this money as match-funding when applying to Sustrans Places for Everyone support, thus doubling, or more, its value. CWSS was increased two years ago, from just £8m to £23.9m, by then Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson MSP with the specific mention that it could be used to contribute to making successful Spaces for People infrastructure permanent.

The bulk of the AT cash, £165.3m, which includes the £39.2m rise, appears in a budget line called Support for Active Travel (table 9.05). A downloadable spreadsheet of ‘Level 4’ information breaks this down a little further ..

  • £152.9m will go to capital investment, such as the Places for Everyone scheme run by Sustrans Scotland, where councils and others can bid for AT project cash, large or small – and/or to new government funding mechanisms as a result of the Active Travel Transformation Project.
  • £12.4m will be ‘current grant’ for active travel promotion and other non-infrastructure schemes.

No further details on how the money will be used are given – many decisions on allocation of the funding are taken as the year progresses.

Where does the cash come from?

A rise of £40m, from 4.3% to 5.3% of the transport budget, is sufficiently significant that it must impact on other elements of the transport budget. Obviously much juggling occurs, with a transport budget of £3520m covering everything from rail to road to ferries, some of which can involve large shifts from year to year – for example added cash to support the young persons’ bus concession. However, some of the budget lines are of particular interest. The Level 4 spreadsheet gives a lot of detail and we have not had time for more than a quick dip into the sections on road travel.

The road construction budget, Capital Land and Works, is down £15m to £122m (-11%). However we are unclear if this is the full picture or if substantial other sums are involved through private finance as has often happened in the past. Certainly there is a very substantial sum (£130m) in PPP payments towards previous privately-funded schemes.

Disappointingly, the Future Transport Fund – Low Carbon, which covers a range of freight, bus and other low-carbon projects, is down £30m to £99m (-23%) due to “a reduction in low carbon programmes to reflect revised profiling.

What you can do following the budget announcement

  • Contact MSPs … At Scotland level, due to the SNP/Green coalition having an overall majority, it is unlikely that the draft budget will change before the final vote on it in the new year. However it is important to keep reminding MSPs and other policy makers that they must now concentrate on building up the capacity in local councils to use the active travel cash effectively, particularly when it rises greatly in 24/25. There is also a question of what happens subsequently – which will depend on the outcome of the May 2026 Scottish Parliament election.
  • Contact councillors … For councils, the budget means growing amounts of cash to bid for through the Places for Everyone scheme (and possibly through new government routes) in 2023/24 and of course significantly more the following year. Every council also automatically receives CWSS cash (explained above) which can be used as match funding when bidding. So ask your councillors to be ambitious – and to ensure they are building up the skilled staff needed for planning and delivery as available capital funding increases.
  • Retweet our tweet of this article – thanks!

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