September 2023

Programme for Government 23/24 – little change

The Scottish Government’s 23/24 PfG is very much ‘steady as she goes,’ although given the growing climate crisis more was hoped for. SCCS pointed to “few, if any, new measures to deliver emissions’ reductions .. in the context of Scotland missing annual targets in eight of the past twelve years.” Specifically on cycling, Cycling UK Scotland noted “#ScotPfG features bikes on the front page but inside no new commitments.

On the other hand, the PfG does at least provide a massive positive contrast with Rishi Sunak‘s distressing retreats on climate, including his previously announced drastic cuts to active travel cash in England.

Programme for Government 23/24 – for Transport see p43 of the pdf, or online see the end of this section

Note: For transport, and for wider net-zero, the PfG should be read in conjunction with the First Minister’s letter to Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition Cabinet Secretary, Màiri McAllan, laying out her objectives for 23/24.

Top issues from the PfG

The two PfG issues that are of greatest relevance to Spokes’s concerns are the Scottish Government’s commitments on traffic reduction and on active travel funding – that they will be fully implemented, and how they are implemented.

Traffic Reduction

Of all the government’s transport policies, probably the most significant in terms of emissions, public health, active travel and rethinking our towns and cities, is its commitment to reducing car-km 20% by 2030. First announced (as a ‘commitment,’ not just a target) in its December 2020 Climate Plan Update, this 10-year project was exceptionally ambitious. Sadly, progress so far has not matched the rhetoric.

The UK Committee on Climate Change (UKCCC) the official body advising the Scottish and UK governments on emissions targets, last year said Scotland was already “significantly off track” in meeting this commitment; and indeed car-km are rising rather than falling.

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’]

After much delay, a draft ‘Route Map’ to achieve the reduction was published for consultation in January 2022 – but the final version is still not out. The PfG now promises to publish it sometime in 23/24 – i.e. the plan to achieve the 2020->2030 reduction is now to be published a third of the way through the period!

Furthermore, the draft Route Map was widely criticised, not least by UKCCC, for relying too heavily on ‘carrots’ alone rather than a carrots/sticks combo. In particular, demand management (notably pricing measures such as congestion charging) was postponed, presumably in the vain hope that carrots alone would work. The draft Route Map promised that a “Framework for Car Demand Management” would be published in 2025 – too late to impact sufficiently on 2030 traffic patterns, given that policy decisions will need to be taken subsequently, and then implemented, a process likely measured in years.

The First Minister’s letter to the Cabinet Secretary does however task her with publishing in 23/24 a ‘research report’ on demand management options, alongside the finalised route map. Hopefully the government is realising that decisions on demand management should not be left to after 2025. A further concern, however, is the possibility of the issue becoming a political football due to the approaching Holyrood election (7 May, 2026), leading to parties scaling back ambitions.

Given the exceptional ambition and importance of the traffic reduction commitment, together with the fact that there is little sign of progress, we note with dismay the small print in the PfG. Whilst the 20% 2030 car-km reduction was labelled a ‘commitment‘ when first announced in the Climate Plan, and subsequently repeatedly referred to as such by government Ministers, the PfG and the letter to the Cabinet Secretary both now use the term ‘target.’ If the wording change is intentional, this is a serious watering down, from something that will be done to something that might be done.

Active Travel funding

The PfG repeats the superb promise, from the November 2021 SNP/Green joint Shared Policy Programme (the ‘Bute House’ agreement), that “by 2024-25 at least £320m or 10% of the total transport budget will be allocated to active travel.”

Indeed, the PfG small print takes this further by confirming that this is not just for 24/25, but also “in future budgets” – although that of course is an intention rather than a cast iron guarantee.

We don’t yet know which, if any, other transport spending will be reduced to fund the big AT increase, but there is certainly heavy lobbying to maintain – or increase – spending on the A96, A9 and other trunk road expansion, and this also features in the PfG. Indeed, until the 24/25 budget is announced (November) we still cross our fingers that the £320m/10% promise will indeed become reality.

It is worth remembering just how transformative this level of AT investment can be if maintained. It represents around £60 per person per year – possibly the highest of any country in Europe if not worldwide (some individual cities may be higher). Of course, Scotland is far behind many of its European neighbours in terms of infrastructure, but this investment, if continued beyond the next election, could put us on a path to catching up.

Perhaps the biggest immediate concern is ensuring the cash is used effectively – in particular that all councils have the necessary motivations, policies, project plans and skilled staff. Since the 2021 announcement that 10% would be coming, the government has disregarded repeated warnings that funding should rise consistently, so that councils could build up skills, policies and project planning. Instead, the proportion rose from 3.5% in 21/22 only to 4.3% in 22/23 and 5.3% in 23/24; meaning that there now has to be an almost doubling of AT cash between 23/24 and 24/25, from 5.3% to 10%. Will enough councils (and others) be in a position to use this effectively in the first year?

The government belatedly recognised the issue, and set up a ‘Transformation’ projectto inform and implement a new delivery model for the future of AT.” This was due to report to Ministers in December 2022 but, if so, has not been made public. In the past nearly all capital funding for new cycling infrastructure was distributed by Sustrans in response to bids by councils. With AT intended to move to a level where it forms a significant part of Scotland’s national transport infrastructure, and where growing numbers of councils (such as Edinburgh) now have ongoing AT network investment programmes rather than just occasional one-off projects, there is a need for direct multi-year ‘programme’ funding, for motivated Councils, rather than everything going through a project-by-project bidding process. In 23/24 the government did started experimenting with allocating part of the AT budget to a £20m ‘Transformation Fund’ which went direct to councils, but the full nature and processes of the Transformation policy still remain obscure – or not yet decided. We have urged greater transparency.

In April 2023 the “Cycling Framework for Active Travel” was published – a “plan for everyday cycling” as an step towards the Scottish Government’s 2030 vision that “people will make walking, wheeling and cycling their most popular choice for short journeys.” Although this mentions the Transformation policy, its details and practicalities remain obscure. Thus the processes to allocate and ensure effective use of the massive expected rise in AT cash are still to be revealed.

Finally, there is considerable concern that there is inadequate cash for the ‘revenue’ side of cycling provision – paying for staff, maintenance of routes, cycle training classes, and so on, as opposed to building new infrastructure. See this Scotsman article and the letter and report from former Active Travel Commissioner, Lee Craigie, to Active Travel Minister Patrick Harvie MSP.

Other relevant PfG promises
  • “continue the roll out of 20 miles per hour speed limits in built up areas”
  • “a pilot for the removal of ScotRail peak-time fares, beginning in October”
  • “Support the operation of Low Emission Zones across our four largest cities by June 2024”
  • “make it easier to submit digital evidence to report poor road user behaviour, in support of making Scotland’s roads safer for all – especially for pedestrians and cyclists”
Other background
What you can do
  • Contact your MSP about any of the above that concerns – and/or pleases – you. Find them here. Send us any useful or interesting replies
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