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Programme for Government: helpful policy commitments, but spectacularly vague on spending

Published 15 September 2020 by Matt McDonald

Transform Director, Colin Howden, presented to the Transform members on the 2020-21 Scottish Government Programme for Government (PfG) on Thursday 10 September.

Colin began by summarising the transport content in the PfG into eight categories:

  1. Reducing the need to travel / Digital connectivity
  2. 20-minute neighbourhoods
  3. Active Travel etc.
  4. Bus priority
  5. Low Emission Zones etc.
  6. Decarbonisation of public transport
  7. Decarbonisation of private transport
  8. Capital expenditure

You can find detailed summaries of the transport content in Colin’s presentation.

Colin then shared Transform’s commentary on the PfG, which was summarised as:

  • Some helpful policy commitments: digital connectivity, 20 minute neighbourhoods, active travel spending commitment, bus fleet decarbonisation — although these are generally not accompanied by spending commitments.
  • Pleased at retention of some previous PfG commitments (e.g. bus priority, LEZs, fossil fuel phase-out) — but the excuses presented regarding lack of progress on these are generally not very credible.
  • Climate framing has been lost: Last year’s PfG took the Climate Emergency as its theme; this year, the phrase gets mentioned only ten times, and none in the context of transport, despite transport being the largest source of emissions.
  • Spectacularly vague on spending commitments: We can see c. £105m committed funds for 2020-21, but Transport Scotland budget is over £2,500m per annum.
  • Strange that railways & ferries get almost no attention — especially given their prominence in Transport Scotland’s budget.
  • No reference to existing high-carbon spending commitments — and no information on whether IIP, STPR2, etc. outputs will follow climate priorities.

The presentation was followed by a Q&A and discussion. One member pointed out that the £500 million spending commitment on active travel represents a real-terms reduction in value across the five years. An interesting discussion then followed on the long-term equalities impact of the increase in working from home. Attendees raised concerns over access to the digital infrastructure required to work from home and it was agreed that Transform would revisit this issue.