MSPs Call For ‘Radical Rethink’ Of Transport Related Spending Post Pandemic

A “radical rethink” of Scotland’s approach to transport-related public spending is needed to meet the changing needs of passengers in a post-Covid world and to ensure the country meets longer-term climate change targets, according to MSPs.

Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has called on the Scottish Government to review its transport spending priorities in light of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on work and travel patterns and demand for transport services.

As part of the committee’s scrutiny, MSPs heard evidence from a range of organisations on the financial implications of Covid-19 for the rural economy and transport operators and how a shift towards home-working and active travel can be supported in Scotland’s economic recovery.

The Committee believes that the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for future transport policy need to be actively considered by the Scottish Government to ensure that funding priorities continue to be aligned with the evolving needs of passengers and transport users.

MSPs also received evidence that the pandemic has resulted in significant behavioural change which is predicted to result in long-term impacts on work behaviours where blended work models are likely to become the future norm. This has underlined the crucial importance of good digital connectivity as well as bringing into focus the “digital divide”, with a significant number of premises in remote and rural areas of Scotland still unable to access high speed broadband.

On a positive note, the Committee received evidence that the emergency measures introduced to tackle the spread of the virus has resulted in a reinforcement of local food supply chains and provided an opportunity for some farmers and fishers to sell produce and fish directly to the public.

In a letter to the Scottish Ministers, the Committee called for the impact of the pandemic to be reflected in the next Scottish Budget, which will be published on 28 January 2021.

Committee Convener, Edward Mountain MSP, said:

“Given the significant changes that have taken place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with regard to travel patterns and the use of public transport, some of which may be long-term or even permanent, the Committee urges the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland to undertake a comprehensive review of transport-related spending priorities with a view to developing a revised financial strategy for Scotland’s transport sector that continues to meet the long-term needs of passengers and transport users.
“The Committee is of the view that a combination of the change in transport use brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the level of ambition in the commitment that Scotland should become a net zero society by 2045 will require a radical rethink of future transport spending priorities, including a further prioritisation of investment in active travel, modal shift in freight transport and in favour of the repair and maintenance of existing transport infrastructure compared to construction of new infrastructure. The Committee would like to see this change in priorities already starting to be reflected in the Scottish budget for 2021-22.
“In light of the far-reaching impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on working behaviours, the Committee urges the Scottish Government to create suitable structures to enable much closer policy coordination between transport and digital connectivity with a view to ensuring optimal use of finite financial resources to facilitate an anticipated long-term shift for many people towards a ‘blended work model’ combining an element of home working and an element of travel to work.”
The Convener added: “The Committee also highlights the significant contribution the agricultural sector can potentially make towards achieving the Scottish Government’s goal of a green recovery and therefore requests that any additional funding allocated in the 2021-22 budget towards achieving that goal should be focused accordingly.”

The Committee took evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity and the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism on the impact of COVID-19 at a virtual meeting of the Committee on 13 May 2020. The Committee also heard evidence from both Cabinet Secretaries on 7 October 2020.

The Committee took evidence from stakeholders, including those with economic expertise in areas such as fisheries, agriculture and transport as well as representatives of the two regional enterprise agencies in Scotland. It has also issued two calls for written evidence, the first looking at the broader impact of COVID-19 on the rural economy and connectivity in Scotland and the second specifically focused on the financial impact and implications for future Scottish budgets. The first of these calls for evidence received 42 responses while the second resulted in a further 16 responses. All responses to both calls for evidence have been published on the Committee’s web pages.

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