Scottish Government’s New Programme: What Will It Mean for Community Transport?
by David Kelly
Director for Scotland
Spring is always a season of change and renewal. The same is true of a change in government. In recent weeks in Scottish politics, we’ve welcomed a new First Minister, a new Cabinet and, inevitably, a shiny new document with a new narrative and set of priorities for a new administration taking office.
Equality, Opportunity, Community
Scotland’s new First Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, announced his government’s new programme – Equality, opportunity, community: New Leadership – A fresh start – before the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, 18 April. There will still be a full Programme for Government later in the parliamentary calendar, but this shorter summary publication offers a preview of what’s in store and sets out ‘three defining missions’ for the Scottish Government:
Equality: Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm Opportunity: A fair, green and growing economy Community: Prioritising our public services
For us in the Community Transport sector and our colleagues across the wider community sector, who work with local people and communities all over Scotland all year round, it was really pleasing and quite exciting to see ‘community’ given top billing.
What if the enormous influence and resources of the Scottish Government were thrown behind empowering and strengthening our communities to reach their full potential? What if every Minister and civil servant thought seriously about investing in and partnering with local charities, community groups and volunteers? What kind of country could Scotland be?
However, while welcome, the mission is framed in a more top-down, administrative way, with a narrower focus on public service delivery instead of a broader vision of devolving and decentralising power towards and below local government. We hope to work with our partners through the Scottish Community Alliance to inspire an evolution in thinking here.
Nevertheless, there are already clear opportunities. There are many familiar ideas and pledges from the previous administration as the SNP continues in office. But there are also some significant changes and early signals of potential direction changes.
Accessible Transport System
The new Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Mairi McAllan MSP, pledged in the document to make Scotland’s public transport system ‘more accessible, available and affordable, with the costs of transport more fairly shared across government, business and society’ by 2026.
We know the new government will need the essential partnership of Community Transport to achieve this and its three defining missions. CTA members are tackling poverty and inequality, creating employment, training and volunteering opportunities and reducing carbon emissions in our urban, rural and island communities daily.
National Care Service
Meanwhile, the contested National Care Service Bill has been ‘paused’ amid reports that the proposals – which would have taken adult social care and other services out of the hands of local authorities and given to newly-formed regional care boards ultimately responsible to Scottish Ministers – could be significantly altered.
This delay creates a welcome opportunity for the new Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Michael Matheson MSP, to strengthen the legislative proposals that previously lacked any reference to transport. The transport needs of patients and service users – whether to get to GP and hospital appointments or just to keep getting out and about – must be an integral part of holistic, person-centred care packages.
Today, far too many Scots, especially older and disabled people, struggle to access amenities and public services or are prematurely forced into supported accommodation or residential care settings due to a lack of accessible transport. Scotland needs a joined-up, strategic approach between the NHS, the National Care Service and Community Transport operators with volunteer car schemes and dial-a-ride services. Everyone deserves to live happier, healthier and more independent lives for longer in their own homes and communities.
New Deal for Local Government
The First Minister has promised a ‘New Deal for Local Government’, which he hopes will reset the often strained relationship between the Scottish Government in Edinburgh and COSLA on behalf of Scotland’s 32 local authorities. The document will include a revised ‘fiscal framework, enabling better collaboration to deliver our shared priorities jointly’.
The New Deal must devolve and decentralise power. At the same time, the fiscal framework must ensure local authorities have the capacity, investment and resources needed to deliver fair, adequate and multi-year funding for the community and voluntary sectors as a whole – including Community Transport.
In the document, the new Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, commits that by 2026 she will have ‘progressed Fairer Funding arrangements, including exploring options to implement multi-year funding deals’ for the third sector. This is a positive commitment but, as SCVO’s CEO Anna Fowlie notes, one we’ve heard before.
Now it’s time for action. Staff deserve Fair Work, a real Living Wage and long-term security of employment. As Northern Ireland’s painful recent experience demonstrates so powerfully, service users deserve to know that the services they rely on are safe, secure and sustainable.
Transition to Zero-Emission Fleets
The programme also commits to building on recent progress to ‘grow the zero-emission bus fleet’ and double Scotland’s EV charging network to at least 6,000 points by 2026. We plan to work with Transport Scotland and local authorities to ensure this new investment and infrastructure is fair and meets the needs of Community Transport operators.
Our sector faces a ‘net zero funding gap’ of £90m to complete the transition to zero-emission fleets, while there’s been significant investment to help commercial bus operators. We’ve already written to the new Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart MSP, to ask him to ‘repeat and expand’ the Plugged-In Communities Grant Fund, based on its enormous success this year.
Reducing Car Use
The document reaffirms the Scottish Government’s commitment to reducing car use by 20% by 2030, which is welcome news. Modal shift away from private car use to active travel and shared transport modes is essential to reduce carbon emissions, improve public health and transform the places where we live, work and play.
But McAllan and Stewart, the new Ministers responsible, will need to grasp the thistle where their predecessors have been reluctant to do so. Reducing car use by a fifth in less than seven years will only be possible with real and meaningful ‘sticks’ to disincentivise private car ownership and tackle car dependency. The delayed ‘car demand management framework’ needs to be brought forward.
We’ve also got lots of suggestions for ‘carrots’ – like lowering bus fares, expanding e-bike access and investing in community car clubs – which government can work with our sector to implement and encourage more people to travel sustainably. You can read more here.
Time Will Tell…
What will all this mean for Community Transport sector? Only time will tell how ambitious and radical Yousaf’s government is prepared to be. But hope springs eternal!
You can read the government’s new programme in full here.
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