ScotGov: “Perverse” travel policies

In relation to:

Constituency MSP: Jim Eadie

15/09/12

Dear Jim Eadie,

I’m writing to you to let you know that I’m not at all satisfied with the SNP’s response to recent news coverage that your transport policies “are perverse”.

Keith Brown insists that the “right balance is being struck”, but however you dress it up, a huge amount of money is being spent on a few big projects (like the A9 or the new Forth Crossing) while relatively speaking, public transport and particularly active travel are suffering.

We could easily stimulate the economy with a lot of small-scale spending on local transport projects, for instance (and chances are the money would go into the Scottish economy, unlike big projects run by foreign firms?) but the SNP really seems to be lacking in imagination in this respect.

Just to give you one example, we still don’t have a cycle path between Edinburgh and Fife that’s wide enough for two directions of foot/bike traffic, although it would cost hardly anything to build, compared with the benefits. I’m sure there are plenty of local firms that would fall over themselves for the contract!

I was an SNP voter at both the previous elections because I wanted a change in Scotland. Unfortunately, I’m coming to the conclusion that the change I’ve got isn’t exactly what I hoped for, (especially as getting around is such a major part of life).

I do hope you’ll feel able to pass these concerns on.

Yours sincerely,

Dave McCraw

I received a prompt and fairly detailed response from Jim Eadie MSP on this one, some key points below:

16/09/12

I share your specific concern that more needs to be done to support active travel and cycling in particular. Your point about the cycle path between Edinburgh and Fife is well made.

You will be aware that significant additional funding was announced as a result of those representations. This was welcomed by cycling organisation Sustrans.

As co-convenors of the Cross Party Group on Cycling Alison Johnstone MSP and I recently wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance John Swinney MSP and the Finance Committee making a number of points including the need for further investment.

Jim kindly offered to meet with me to discuss these concerns further, although actually I prefer to write as it’s easier to get everything in decent order!

I liked some of what I heard, although I felt he might not have been entirely straight on the ‘additional funding’ front, hence this short reply:

19/09/12

Dear Jim,

Thanks for your prompt response to my email – it’s nice to feel these concerns are noted by our representatives.

Thanks also for your kind offer of a meeting. I don’t think there’s anything I’d be able to bring up in person more easily than in writing, but I’ve noted your availability for future, just in case.

I just wanted to clarify the point about ‘significant additional funding’. I understood that the ‘Sustainable and Active Travel’ element of the budget fell from £25m the year before last to £16m (later lifted to £20m after widespread protest) this year. Although that u-turn on cuts is welcome, with £5m less in the pot, potentially losing match funding into the bargain, that wouldn’t really represent additional money?

Perhaps I’m not sufficiently familiar with the proper way to read the budget, as I know the various pots are split up in different ways?

Given what we know about the superior returns of investment in active travel, I’m still hoping to see an increase at least to previous years’ funding levels this year (although of course, adjusting for inflation, nominally matching the last administration’s funding for active travel would still represent quite a cut).

It’s good to hear that you’ll be supporting a resolution at the SNP conference. I must admit, quite how the administration hopes to meet the 10% cycling target it’s committed to with under 1% of the transport budget is a modern mystery of the age, so perhaps we’ll see that change.

I’ll probably be pestering you again when all this is published!

Thanks again,

Dave

Lothians list MSPs

David McLetchie, Kezia Dugdale, Alison Johnstone, Margo MacDonald, Neil Findlay, Gavin Brown and Sarah Boyack:

15/09/12

Dear member,

I’m writing to you as one of my list MSPs to express my disquiet over the government’s response to recent accusations that its transport policies are “perverse”.

Keith Brown seems to suggest that “the balance is right” but with ever more money being funnelled into major infrastructure works (run by foreign firms), I’m not even sure that claims of boosting the economy hold much water.

We desperately need to improve public transport and active travel options (which, ironically, would reduce the amount of road maintenance we’re bleeding cash on).

I’ve also written to Jim Eadie on this and suggested, as a point of illustration, that the government could consider freeing up some money so that people can cycle in both directions between Edinburgh and Fife at the same time (the goat-track beside the A90 being a terrible embarrassment on a major commuting and tourism route).

I’m sure local firms would fall over each other to bid for that kind of work, and the returns are well known to be much higher for active travel investments than major road projects.

The draft 13/14 budget will soon be published, with the wide expectation of another failed year on active travel in particular. I hope you will be able to take the strong views of many in the community that the status quo is not good enough into account during the consultation and eventual vote?

Yours sincerely,

Dave McCraw

As usual, I didn’t recieve any acknowledgement from Margo MacDonald who I’ve given up as a lost cause (not one I’ll be voting for in future), nor from David McLetchie (Tory) – I’ve previously managed to scare replies out of his secretary, but that’s hardly worth doing all the time.

I did welcome a short acknowledgement from Neil Findlay (Lab) “I am a member of the cross party group on Cycling and a keen cyclist myself. I think we do need to improve the cycling infrastructure if we are to move people into active travel. I will liaise with colleagues on this in the run up to the budget.”

Sarah Boyack deferred to Kezia Dugdale (both Lab), but perhaps Neil speaks on behalf of them all this time.

Gavin Brown (Tory) confirmed he’d “consider all the issues” and knows “that the 2012/2013 budget was cut heavily … keen to see how the published figures compare”. Not actually a commitment to extra funding, perhaps inevitably.

Alison Johnstone (Green) naturally came back with the longest and most positive response (although in fairness it seemed like a form reply that could do with updating, dwelling as it did on events early in the year leading up to PoP).

The bottom line though is that since the Greens are pretty well aligned with the Pedal on Parliament manifesto, it’s hard for them not to excel in terms of the “cycling vote”.

Wait and see time on the draft budget, then…

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