With the publication of the Labour manifesto, the main political parties have all set out their stalls for the 5 May election. STSG had sent the think piece “STR58 – Towards a Democratic mandate for Transport Reform” to all of the main parties so we wanted to check whether the manifestos had made the big commitments we are looking for.
There are certainly some big commitments so as a quick guide to which parties are shaping up for the future of transport a few of the most relevant commitments are presented below. Not surprisingly complex changes affecting the future of transport are couched in fairly general terms, but there is much to welcome.
We highlighted 10 key commitments that seemed to be missing from the transport debate so below we set out what response the parties have made in their manifestos.
Reform 1 – Ensure greater equity in the way that transport investment is made, to ensure that transport investment is not used as a hidden subsidy to the richest in society.
Labour, the Libdems and the Greens all support land value taxation which is one of the most efficient ways to ensure that public spending on transport is applied equitably across the economy.
The Libdems have proposed the island proofing of all policies, and Labour have proposed an Island’s Bill to ensure that Islands are treated equitably, including transport investment.
Verdict – Land value taxation in locations affected by transport changes and published audits of changes in access to opportunity as a result of transport spending continue to be two of the best ways to ensure equity in public spending. Neither of these are yet undertaken systematically in Scotland but the recommendations of Scottish Parliament committee reports seem to be being taken up in manifestos, if not government policy.
Reform 2 – Invest in transport for place making so that transport as a demand largely derived from the desire to reach places will be integrated into urban and rural communities across Scotland.
There are few specific proposals about place making. The manifestos mention the City Deals as ways of managing collaborative investment in Scotland’s cities. There is also recognition of the important role of communities in building places from the bottom up.
Labour propose new strategies for towns and the SNP have committed to continue Scotland’s towns partnership. The Conservatives propose a new round of Town Centre Regeneration Funding of £30million annually.
Active travel to local shops is mentioned in most manifestos. The Greens suggest that 10% of the transport budget should be spent on walking and cycling routes and want a higher profile for road maintenance.
Verdict – Whilst regeneration, partnership and more active travel (footfall) are all important ingredients of success in place making there remains no clear programme for funding the streetscape improvements, including maintenance of roads and footpaths, that are badly needed in so many of Scotland’s places.
Reform 3 – Integration of transport with wider investment so that all new development from new hospitals to new homes are consistent with better transport
There are positive statements about ensuring new development pays for its transport costs in the Conservative but no detail on the mechanisms.
The Greens support greater community involvement to ensure local needs are protected when land is developed but again the details of how they will do this is not clear.
Verdict – There is no clear national framework proposed to protect investment in passenger and freight transport when land is developed. Local authorities will therefore continue to find themselves competing for development by underfunding transport consequences of development.
Reform 4 – Taxation of fuel duty should recognise Scotland’s leadership role in the UK on transport and energy reform so there is a need to work with the UK Government and the EU to bring forward relevant policies to replace outdated fuel, vehicle excise duty and vehicle taxes.
Reform 5 – Introduce pay as you go pricing to create incentives for more efficient road use that save travellers money and reduce the need for expensive transport capacity improvements
The SNP highlight the limited taxation powers of the Scottish Government and UKIP highlight their concerns about the growing role of the EU in supporting transport policies like road pricing. There are no other commitments in the other manifestos.
Verdict – There are no signs that the Holyrood Parliament seeks to lead fuel taxation reform or road pricing. This means that Scotland will probably end up following the transport reforms led by the private sector and other tiers of government during the period of the next Scottish Parliament, following the trends of recent years and weakening Scotland’s competitive position in the future of transport.
Reform 6 – Replace regressive transport taxes which favour the wealthiest with progressive approaches to paying for transport to spread the burden of transport taxes more equitably.
The SNP propose to cut Air Passenger Duty by 50% which will have positive distributional benefits for more isolated parts of the country who rely more on air travel, but nationally will favour wealthy and middle income earners who take the greatest number of flights. All other parties will retain APD at the current level and to maintain the Air Discount Scheme to reduce travel costs from remote areas. There are no new progressive taxation or charging policies proposed.
The SNP say that “We have based all our decisions on tax around the principles first set out by Adam Smith – taxes should be proportionate to ability to pay; they should give certainty to taxpayers; they should allow for convenient payment; and they should be efficient in their operation.” However they do not explain why transport taxes do not appear to follow these principles.
Verdict – Transport taxation will continue to be one of the most unfair and unsustainable elements of the tax system. Opportunities to reform bus service operators grant, VAT and other taxes to align them with transport policy have been missed. Scotland cannot hope to develop a low carbon transport economy if maintenance and reuse are taxed more heavily than new construction and if improvements for the highest carbon modes of travel are not balanced with investment in low carbon travel.
Reform 7 – New approaches to transport partnerships, contracts and franchises are needed. The combination of complexity with inflexibility means the current rail and ferry franchising process is unable to meet fast changing needs and partnerships to manage public and private stakes in transport are weak and ineffective.
Labour and UKIP have suggested halting the tendering process for the west coast ferry services.
The Greens propose new regulation of bus services to include a minimum level of service guarantee; requirements to invest in more accessible energy efficient vehicles; and a renovation programme for bus stations. Labour propose greater democratic control and municipal ownership of bus services.
The SNP propose a Bill within the first year of the new parliament which amongst other things will improve bus services, including new seatbelt laws, but the general aim of the Bill is not clear, being at least party based on a transport strategy refresh which has been promised.
Labour and the Greens both propose taking the Scotrail franchise into public ownership and the SNP hint at bringing forward proposals which may cover this in their proposed transport Bill.
Verdict – The manifestos all recognise that substantial change is needed giving all parties a mandate for reform. However the lack of clarity about the direction of that reform will make the consensus building process between those involved in securing good transport services more difficult. Local people, community groups, transport operators, local authorities, Scottish Government, UK Government, and EU Government all have important stakes in the future of these services which need to be reflected in future plans. The relationship between the Scottish Government stake and the roles of others in not is not defined in any of the manifestos.
Reform 8 – Develop transport systems to improve their performance in delivering stated transport policy outcomes for better journey times and connections, better access to opportunity and cleaner heathier travel
The Greens would extend the free bus pass to unpaid carers on benefits, and Labour would extend free bus travel to apprentices and former service personnel.
The upgrading of the A9 and A96 are mentioned in most manifestos and various rail schemes are proposed for Fife, Clackmannanshire and the Borders. Various commitments are also made to spend money on infrastructure but are not linked to planned outcomes.
Verdict – There are few new policy commitments for better journey times and costs between homes, businesses and key opportunities such as workplaces, hospitals and schools and there remains little clarity about what level of performance is expected from transport systems. This will continue to make it difficult for businesses and residents to plan their lives around the big changes in the transport systems which will occur over the period of the next Scottish Parliament. Government also needs to provide some clarity about what performance is sought from Scotland’s ports.
Reform 9 – Modernise consumer protection for travellers to reflect emerging needs across all modes of travel
The Libdems have promised to stop the creation of the Scottish Government’s ID and replace it with data that belongs to the citizen and where people have the right to know who has accessed their information. They have also promised to take steps to safeguard people from the misuse of their data including CCTV images or biometric information.
Verdict – Many Scottish people are not yet aware of how their personal data tracking their travel from their phones and GPS systems and through CCTV is being used, so most manifestos have missed this vitally important issue. Consumer protection of this data will be an increasingly important topic during the course of the next Scottish Parliament but only the Libdems would have a democratic mandate for action to challenge strong commercial interests in this.
Reform 10 – Clarify rights and responsibilities within the transport systems to reflect the rapid changes towards increasingly smart modes of transport and smart infrastructure
The Greens have proposed presumed liability for road casualties to give new protections to vulnerable road users.
Verdict – Greater automation of vehicles, drones and other emerging transport technologies will be accompanied by increasing legal costs to resolve rights and responsibilities. Case law in Scotland provides good flexibility to enable these changes but the burden of high legal costs for vulnerable travellers unable to pay high legal costs to defend themselves is a growing problem that only the Greens appear to recognise.