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August Newsletter — Tackling a Crisis

Published 20 August 2020 by Colin Howden

Well that was a short summer! The return of the Scottish Parliament last week from its abbreviated summer recess means that the campaigning autumn season is again open. Of course, the Parliament never really went away, with meetings held at least once a week since the end of June.

Tackling a crisis 

All of the sustainable transport challenges that we faced before the lockdown are still there to be tackled. Most of these have been significantly worsened by the impact of coronavirus, most notably the severe impacts on the financial viability of public transport services. Nevertheless we should not forget the message that governments have shown that they can take swift action to tackle a crisis. The question is whether they are now prepared to take swift and decisive action to tackle the climate crisis. 

Climate

Scotland’s transport sector has seen no reduction emissions since 1990: this is not accidental, it is due to successive administrations making active decisions to prioritise investment in dirty transport. The next Parliamentary session will see the Scottish Government introduce a revised Climate Change Plan to the Parliament. This will provide a central focus for our activities. We have already submitted written evidence to the Parliament’s environment committee on Green Recovery and we will be scrutinising the Government’s climate proposals. We have previously been critical of the over-reliance on technofix responses to climate and it is imperative that the Government now puts modal shift at the centre of its transport policies and proposals.

Investment

Our second focus will be the Government’s expenditure plans. A new Programme for Government is expected within the next few weeks. This will be followed by the draft Scottish Budget for 2021-22. Looking further ahead, Transport Scotland will have been continuing work on the Strategic Transport Projects Review during the lockdown., It remains to be seen whether these processes genuinely focus investment on sustainable transport. Last September‘s Programme for Government made strong commitments for investment in the bus network – it promised a £500m Bus Partnership Fund and the Managed Motorways programme for bus priority on the Glasgow motorway network – but Transport Scotland has entirely failed to deliver on these Ministerial commitments. 

The Ministers themselves also bear responsibility here: while transport minister Michael Matheson is correct to identify climate change as a challenge to the ongoing resilience of the rail network, this is of course a Government that continues to prioritise transport capital expenditure on a multi-billion pound road-building programme rather than a multi-billion pound capital investment programme in sustainable transport.

Elections 

Our third focus will be the run-up to next May’s Scottish Parliament elections. We are already in discussion with a number of the political parties regarding their manifesto plans, and are pursuing the other parties for similar discussions. We will be looking for the parties to bring forward comprehensive plans for the decarbonisation of the transport sector.

Get involved

We will be speaking about these and other issues to Transform’s members through a series of videocalls to be held throughout the autumn. This follows on from the well-received series of ‘Corona Recovery’ reports and videocalls that we held during June. Look out for our series of videocalls, to be announced in the next few weeks, and please put the afternoon of Thursday 29 October in your calendar for our Annual General Meeting.

Colin Howden
Director, Transform Scotland