Active travel charity Sustrans has claimed that 21 jobs and a range of schemes designed to encourage cycling amongst schoolchildren and people from Scotland’s poorest areas are at risk due to ongoing uncertainty over the Scottish government’s support for active travel.
According to a Sustrans spokesperson, despite the SNP and Green Party-led government’s pledge to significantly increase active travel funding and cut motor traffic by 20 percent by 2030, a threatened £500,000 cut to its funding – which has yet to be confirmed – could lead to the closure of hundreds of cycling initiatives across Scotland, including free bike schemes for young people.
“We have been asked to make substantial savings in our behaviour change programme,” Sustrans told the Scotsman this week. “This work includes training children on safe cycling, supporting people to walk and cycle to work, and giving marginalised communities the opportunity to access walking and cycling.
“With less Scottish Government funding, we are left with no choice but to make cuts, which will reduce our impact on changing the way people travel every day. As a result, 21 of our Sustrans colleagues in Scotland are now at risk of redundancy and there will be an end or reduction to programmes right across Scotland.”
The spokesperson also told the newspaper that while spending on cycling infrastructure is still likely to continue, though it may be reduced, schemes to encourage cycling in targeted areas were essential if the government is to meet its active travel targets.
“Building the infrastructure is critical, but uptake will be greatly reduced without encouragement, support, and engagement with communities,” they said.
“Scotland is leading the way amongst the UK nations in funding and delivery of active travel. We cannot afford to lose this momentum if Scotland is to have any hope of achieving its net zero targets.”
The charity also expressed fears over whether the planned funding increases – set to rise from £139 million in 2022/23 to £320 million in 2024/25 – would materialise given the current uncertainty.
“We understand there is continued commitment to the promises in the Programme for Government and the Bute House agreement [between the SNP and the Green Party], which proposes increasing the budget to £320m by the end of the parliament,” Sustrans says.
"These cuts, however, are a worrying development and we hope it will not put that commitment at risk.”
The Scottish Conservatives’ transport spokesperson Graham Simpson described the confusion over the government’s active travel funding, and the potential cuts to Sustrans’ budget, as “absolutely scandalous”.
“Cutting Sustrans’ budget and putting staff at risk of redundancy is not going to get people out of their cars and onto alternatives. This decision must be reversed,” he told the Scotsman.
However, the government’s Transport Scotland agency informed the newspaper that funding was still subject to approval and no decision had yet been finalised, but that its priority is to build infrastructure and that it remains “absolutely committed” to increasing Scotland’s active travel funding to £320 million next year.
“Over the last few weeks, we have had very constructive engagement with our funding partners including Sustrans,” a Transport Scotland spokesperson said. “We greatly appreciate their patience and support in providing additional information and evidence at this time of heightened scrutiny of all programmes. That work means we expect to be able to confirm further funding for programmes very soon.”
Just last month, the SNP’s Gavin Newlands questioned the UK government’s ambitions of reaching net zero following the cuts to England’s active travel budget announced in March.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Scottish MP said: “The Government had a relative positivity of ambition on active travel before slashing the budget, as they now plan to spend less than £1 per head in England outside London, compared with £17 per head in Wales and £50 in Scotland — that’s 5,000 percent more.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.