Funding boost for cycling in tough Scottish Budget

Cycling UK Scotland - Camglen Bike Town Rutherglen - Tue 7 November 2023 (© photographer - Andy Catlin
The Scottish Budget for next year, 2024/25, includes a welcome increase in funds for projects which support and promote cycling

Jim Densham, Cycling UK campaigns and policy manager reacts to the news and looks into the wider implications of the budget for sustainable transport in Scotland.

The Scottish Government published its budget on Tuesday which had been heavily trailed as one of the most financially constrained since devolution in 1999. 

As a consequence when Deputy First Minister Shona Robison stood up in the Holyrood Parliament to deliver the Scottish Budget: 2024 to 2025 she was far from being able to spread festive good cheer or hand out bundles of cash as pre-Christmas presents.

The positive news for cycling is that the amount of money allocated to support cycling, walking and wheeling projects is up by £31m to £220m for 2024/25.

Record investment in Scotland

This new record investment in Scotland represents £41 spent on active travel per person in Scotland – the highest per capita spend in the UK. 

Despite this good news, my public response on behalf of Cycling UK was, however, rather muted.

"At a time of considerable strain on the public purse, the Scottish Government's budget provides a welcome and significant boost in funding for projects which enable people to make local journeys by cycling, walking or wheeling.

“£220m is a record investment that shows Scotland is leading the way within the UK, although it falls disappointingly short of the £320m promised at the beginning of this Parliament. We urge the Government to ensure that this target is met in 2025/26.

“Investing in active travel is proven to be excellent value for money: every £1 spent on cycling and walking schemes provides almost £6 worth of benefits, including improved health and wellbeing, reduced congestion and better air quality.

“The continued growth in funding gives councils across Scotland the opportunity to enable more people to cycle easily, confidently and safely.”

A bar chart showing Scotland's Active Travel Budget from 2017 to 2025 compared against committed budget for 2024/2025

£100m less than promised

In 2021, the SNP and Scottish Greens agreed to work together in Government and published a suite of agreed commitments, known as the Bute House Agreement

Crucially, for us, this included a commitment to spend 10% of the transport budget on active travel, or at least £320m by 2024/25. 

So, for the past 3 years we have been looking forward to government reaching this milestone and achieving a quantum leap in support for cycling. 

It’s the level of funding we campaigned for during the 2021 Scottish election and was included in our Cycling UK Scotland manifesto.

On one hand, the £100m gap between £220m offered for next year and the long-promised £320m is a hard blow to take.

But, given the £1.5bn financial black hole in the Scottish finances, and budget cuts across the board, we felt it would be wrong to be too churlish about government missing this commitment. 

Arguably, a £31m increase is a relief, in such straightened times. 

Furthermore, the Scottish Government maintains that it hasn’t abandoned the £320m commitment. A government spokesperson was quoted in the Scotsman following the budget saying: 

“Our commitment to £320m of investment remains in place, but will take a little longer to reach.

"As well as delivering record amounts of funding, we are also transforming how we deliver on that programme so that every pound makes the difference Scotland needs. That transformation programme continues throughout 2024/25, meaning that it is a transitional year and a further step change to our commitment.”

Trunk road spending goes up

The new £220m figure is a boost but it doesn’t take us much further towards Scotland spending the transformatory 10% of the transport budget on active travel. We’ve moved from active travel being 5.3% of transport spend in 2023/24 to 5.6% in 2024/25. 

The reason for this is largely due to a huge £200m increase in spending on trunk roads and motorways next year.

In her foreword to the budget document Shona Robison said, ‘This is a budget which leaves no stone unturned as we prioritise what really matters….. tackling the climate emergency head on.’

The balance of the transport budget is still a long way off what is needed to tackle the climate crisis that is already affecting us in Scotland. 

Even this week the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen warned that Scotland’s climate is changing faster than expected, bringing more intense storms and heavy rainfall like those we have experienced this autumn.

To compound the situation, the budget for next year sees less money for trains, buses and low-carbon transport – the options needed if we want people to leave the car at home and travel in greener ways. 

Government must think again and rebalance the transport budget to adequately deal with a growing climate catastrophe. 

This will be at the forefront of our campaigning and conversations with government in 2024 as we push for strong measures in the forthcoming Climate Change Plan which will provide people with more choice in how they travel rather than being forced to rely on using a car for their everyday journeys.  

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