August 2017
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Councils funding survey discontinued in 2015

[For the survey reports see this page]

Note from Dave du Feu, who conducted the annual funding survey…

I am have decided to stop doing the annual survey of Scottish local authority cycle funding which I have done for the last 19 years, starting 1996.   There are two main reasons…

  • the increasing amount of work involved
  • the points I hoped the survey would make are now widely understood (see below) albeit they have only been partially acted on.

These reasons are expanded on below, together with further comments on the background and development of the survey.

I would like to offer sincere thanks to the many local authority, RTP, Sustrans and other officers who have taken a great deal of time obtaining and sending me information, including answers to my frequent follow-up queries.  I have very much appreciated their understanding and help when there are so many demands on their time.

 

1.  The survey is becoming increasingly complex and time consuming.  This is a welcome reflection of the fact that cycling investment is growing – most if not all local authorities are now doing something for cycling, and many are doing far more than they used to.  However this means more work for council officers in responding to the survey and much more checking, comparison and analysis for me.  There are already a large number of cases in which I find discrepancies between what I am told by a council and by an RTP or by Sustrans or other sources.  Usually it is not due to a ‘mistake’, but to reasons such as which financial year a grant or project is counted as, project delays, late allocation of grants, differing interpretations of my questions, etc.  However each such instance involves checking, thinking, contacting and, sometimes, making a ‘most likely’ guesstimate.

2.  I have always intended the survey primarily as a means of putting pressure on central government to increase cycling investment – particularly for councils and other relevant bodies.  Many years ago, Spokes began to realise that the action which councils would take on cycling depended significantly on the financial (and to some extent political) lead from central government, and that was my initial impetus for starting the survey.  The survey proved this to be the case and helped greatly in lobbying for improvements, which have included…

  • increasing total government funding to councils for cycling – firstly to somewhat under 1% of government transport spending, fluctuating in that area for 10 years, and then in 14/15 to nearly 2%.  The ‘under 1%’ figure became widely known and quoted by campaigners and MSPs.  The recent doubling to nearly 2% was influenced by growing campaigning, notably the PoP demos – which again used the ‘under 1%’ figure heavily.
  • retaining the CWSS fund – which the SNP tried twice to scrap, and nearly succeeded in scrapping, when they first came to power.
  • adding weight and objectivity to arguments on cycle funding – The survey is widely quoted – for example in the Scottish Parliament Information Service [SPICe] publications on Cycling.

When the survey began, although few Councils were putting much cash into cycling, government was putting virtually zero.  Now the position is reversed, with greater investment originating from government (although invested mainly via councils, through CWSS, Sustrans and other means).  Given the government’s ambition for greatly increased cycle use this is as it should be, and indeed government cycling investment should be much higher given that government wants to see 10% of trips by bike by 2020.

3.  Later, the survey showed that some councils were relying solely on the government cash for cycling investment, whilst others were using CWSS cash only for WSS (Walking and Safer Streets) with little or none going to Cycling.  We were then able to lobby for the government funding rules to be modified to rectify these problems.  Two important changes resulted…

  • councils are now asked to allocate a significant % of CWSS to cycling investment
  • Sustrans grants now require 50/50 matched contributions from councils (and other partners)

4. Despite the above intentions, many readers of the survey, unsurprisingly, see it primarily as a comparison between councils.  Certainly it is useful for that, although the uncertainties and judgements which are involved (examples are mentioned in 1 above) mean that I always urge great caution in such contrasts.  However a rough comparison of my council placings with the star ratings given to Councils in Cycling Scotland’s local authorities assessment suggests a good correlation – despite the fact that I am looking only at financial aspects and Cycling Scotland is looking mainly at other aspects.  This gives added confidence to the results of both analyses in terms of how councils are ordered on cycling performance.

5. Although, as explained in (4), I am very wary of taking my survey results as a reliable statement with regards to any particular council, it seems probable that the all-Scotland picture has given a very good perspective on all-Scotland cycling investment trends year by year.

6. Several other issues have been revealed by the survey, mainly in ‘other comments’ from cycling officers and in resulting informal emails or conversations.  These issues, largely, still remain problematic.  They include…

  • The most common complaint by Council cycling officers is the need for multi-year assurance of funding.   This is really vital for long-term planning.  Even small projects may require consultation, land acquisition, traffic orders, tendering, etc, and if there is no assurance of funding at the end of the process then the incentive even to begin these preliminaries is undermined.  This problem is now much more widely appreciated.  In terms of local authority own funding, Edinburgh sets a fine example with its allocation of a known percentage of the transport budget to cycling, thus giving as strong a commitment to ongoing funding as one could hope for from an elected body.  Government funding, sadly, is more sporadic, although Ministers say they recognise the problem, and there was a 2-year allocation in the 2013 budget, giving a basic amount for cycling in 14/15 and 15/16.  However, funding for 16/17 and onwards is now again a complete unknown, given the end of the current spending review and a Holyrood election in 2016.
  • The fact that government funding for cycling is still very low (under 2% of total transport spending) results in extensive lobbying, and this in turn leads to small sporadic additions (e.g. from underspending on the Forth Bridge). Such additions tend to come part way through the financial year, resulting in particularly bad timing problems for Sustrans and for local authority cycling officers. A recent example was the £5m allocated to councils at short notice (and for one year only) for Smarter Choices – a topic which tends to be staff-intensive and so even more difficult to handle at short notice.
  • Although cash is now more available (e.g. through bids to Sustrans) for cycle facility construction, there is no such funding for maintenance.   Here again, Edinburgh gives a great lead, as its transport budget % cycling allocation applies to revenue as well as capital.  Thus maintenance of offroad paths has improved, main cycleroutes are gritted in winter, and road structural maintenance prioritisation rules include a weighting for roads important for cycling.  As far as we know Edinburgh Council is unique in most of these respects – and nor is government cycling cash available to assist maintenance.
  • Where a trunk road interferes with potential local cycling connections, or where there are potential local opportunities to avoid a trunk road, Transport Scotland generally appears unwilling to work with the local authority to make the necessary modifications, even where they might be inexpensive.  Albeit that where Transport Scotland are themselves planning a major trunk road project they will now consider incorporating associated cycling facilities.

7. Although I am planning to stop the local authorities survey, it is of course much easier (though not easy!) to keep tabs purely on Scottish Government cycling investment, and I intend to continue to do that with the usual small table in Spokes Bulletins [for example Spokes 122, p6].  However the contributions to total cycling investment from Councils and other bodies will no longer be covered.

I don’t know at present if anyone else in Spokes will have the time to continue the survey – it seems unlikely.  Cycling Scotland is looking into taking it over, which would be useful in many ways, though of course there is value in it being conducted by a body independent of public funding.

DdF