September Newsletter — Campaigns UpdatePublished 24 September 2020 by Transform Scotland
Our focus over the past month has been the 2020-21 Programme for Government (PfG) which was published on 1 September. Our main observation is that whilst the focus on green jobs is laudable, the transport components of the PfG are unimpressive, generally restating commitments made twelve months ago on which progress has yet to be made. Furthermore, although £100 million a year is committed to active travel, this only represents 4% of Transport Scotland’s budget and there is no detail on how the rest of the transport budget will be spent.
We presented a detailed summary of the PfG to members on a videocall. Our commentary can be summarised as:
- The PfG contains some helpful policy commitments – digital connectivity, 20-minute neighbourhoods, active travel spending commitment, bus fleet decarbonisation – but these are generally not accompanied by spending commitments.
- We are pleased to see the retention of some previous PfG commitments, but the excuses provided for the lack of progress on these are generally not very credible. For example, there has been no progress on the Bus Partnership Fund or Managed Motorways commitments and no new rail electrification.
- 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.
- The PfG is spectacularly vague on spending commitments. We can see c. £105m committed funds for 2020-21, but Transport Scotland’s budget is over £2,500m per annum.
- It is strange that railways and ferries get almost no attention, especially given their prominence in Transport Scotland’s budget.
- There is no reference to existing high-carbon spending commitments, and no information on whether the outputs of the Infrastructure Investment Plan, Strategic Transport Projects Review, etc will follow climate priorities.
There was some merit in the Labour motion, particularly the references to ‘climate’ and ‘Green Recovery’. However, we oppose further financial support for the aviation sector without action to tackle emissions. Aviation is the most polluting form of transport, and transport is now Scotland’s largest source of climate emissions, contributing 37% of the total. We also noted further equalities issues s with providing financial support to the aviation industry, including:
- Flying is a discretionary activity undertaken largely by those in the top half of the income spectrum. The 15% of the UK population who fly frequently are responsible for 70% of all flights.
- Aviation is already very lightly taxed. Airlines pay no tax on aviation fuel, there is no VAT on tickets, and airports benefit from duty-free retail.
- Travel abroad should not be incentivised at a time when the UK’s domestic tourism and hospitality sectors need to rebuild.
The last month has seen yet more calls for new road-building projects with calls from the Scottish Conservatives to widen the M8 to three lanes between Glasgow and Edinburgh and more news stories on the Sheriffhall Flyover and the Cross Tay Link Road. More clarification on the Scottish Government’s long-term plans is expected in the Infrastructure Investment Plan to be published later today. Last year a report by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) showed that infrastructure spending remains skewed towards high carbon infrastructure for future projects. It is difficult to see this changing if road projects like these do go ahead, alongside the expensive dualling projects on the A9 and A96, instead of fixing our existing roads and investing in sustainable transport.
We will continue to put pressure on the Scottish Government to abandon unnecessary road-building projects during a Climate Emergency and look forward to seeing whether any progress has been made in the Infrastructure Investment Plan.