Transport track record makes impressive reading
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today said the Scottish Government’s record of transport improvements demonstrated the gains for the economy from having decision-making powers in Scotland.
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is committed to the largest transport investment programme Scotland has ever seen.
But she said it was now clear that decisions over tax and capital spending needed to be transferred from Westminster to Scotland to boost economic performance.
In a speech to the Road Haulage Association, in which she set out how an independent Scotland would have a more modern, integrated, and truly connected transport system, she said:
“Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Even without North Sea oil our national income per head is on a par with the UK as a whole.
“Where we have had the power to make decisions in Scotland we have further strengthened the economy. But we know also that there are real costs when decisions about Scotland are taken in Westminster.
“On roads, for example, one of our very first actions in government was to take on the costs of bridge maintenance, abolishing the tolls that were acting as a drag on the development of our economy.
“We have used our devolved powers over transport infrastructure wisely, and are committed to the largest transport investment programme that Scotland has ever seen.
“The £320 million M80 Stepps to Haggs project completed a vital part of Scotland’s motorway network; the M74 Completion has delivered economic benefits of up to five times the cost of the initial scheme; and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral route will create 46km of new road which will transform travel; and the jewel in the crown – the Queensferry Crossing - is on time and will cost substantially less than the initial estimate.”
However, she said the decision of Westminster to cut capital spending in Scotland by 26 per cent was something that should not have been done in a downturn. And she said Westminster’s decision to levy the most expensive aviation duty in Europe was also undermining the Scottish economy.
“It’s a commonly-held view that the UK Government’s Air Passenger Duty (APD) harms the competitive position of Scotland’s airports and adds significantly to the cost of flying to and from Scotland.
“UK APD is the most expensive aviation duty in Europe, and the UK is ranked second lowest in the world in terms of competitiveness of ticket taxes and airport charges.
“A tax regime of this kind may be justifiable in terms of seeking to reduce pressure on overcrowded airports in South-East England. It cannot be justified with regard to Scotland’s circumstances.
“In an independent Scotland, a competitive Scottish aviation taxation regime will stimulate new and existing direct international services, bringing a major boost to the Scottish economy.”
Under the current constitutional arrangements, the Scottish Government is responsible for: rail and trunk road networks; major public transport projects; national concessionary travel schemes; impartial travel information services; co-ordinating the National Transport Strategy for Scotland; liaising with regional transport partnerships; sustainable transport, road safety and accessibility; local roads policy; aviation, bus, freight and taxi policy; ferries, ports, harbours and canals; and the Blue Badge Scheme (for disabled drivers).
Scotland’s rail is a valued part of this country’s social and economic fabric. The Scottish Government has a long-term vision for a modern and efficient rail network that contributes to the government purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth. Passenger figures today are higher than they were in the last golden age of rail in the 1920s and 1930s. Last year, there were 83 million passenger journeys in Scotland, which was a 33 per cent increase since 2004, the start of the current franchise.
Working with Network Rail and First ScotRail, the Scottish Government has ensured that performance levels have improved considerably, with ScotRail services reaching a high in this year’s National Passenger Survey results. Since 2007, ScotRail’s results have been consistently higher than the UK average, with the measurement of passenger satisfaction - the Public Performance Measure - regularly exceeding target levels of 92%. These levels of satisfaction, coupled with the rise in passenger numbers over the same period, show that the rail network is working for Scotland.
The strategic road network is the Scottish Government’s most valuable asset, with a gross value of £18 billion. It constitutes 6% of the Scottish road network, carries 37% of all traffic (but 63% of heavy goods vehicles), and includes 2000 bridges. The rest of Scotland’s road network is operated by our Local Authorities, and as part of the 2013-14 Local Government Finance Settlement, the Scottish Government has provided Local Authorities with £10.3 billion to maintain the local road network. Roads are vitally important to a country’s economic well-being – they are an essential enabler of the effective movement of people, goods and services between our major towns and cities, helping to deliver sustainable economic growth, particularly in the chemical, food and drink, tourism and energy sectors. Road policy and infrastructure was the subject of one of the very first actions of this government following its election in 2007; a major manifesto commitment was to take on the costs of bridge maintenance, abolishing the tolls that were acting as a drag on the development of our local – and sometimes most fragile – economies.
Despite relentless Westminster budget cuts, the Scottish Government is committed to the largest transport investment programme that Scotland has ever seen. In addition to improving journey times and connections, investment in our strategic roads brings communities closer to business, leisure, employment and tourism opportunities. A number of vital projects are planned or in construction which will bring a range of benefits to our economy, principally by raising levels of productivity – one of the key drivers of sustainable economic growth – and removing constraints on our future economic success.
In Scotland, the transport system must accommodate the varying demands of the whole nation, both now and into the future. This covers our cities and their role as national economic drivers, and more remote areas and their roles in agriculture, tourism and high value exports. It is for this reason we are dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025 as we move towards our long term objective of dualling the entire road network between all our cities by 2030. Our infrastructure programme for the strategic road network will return significant benefits to Scotland, delivering not only the substantial, direct economic savings to businesses and individuals that come from improved transport links, but also wider social gains such as improved road safety, better accessibility and reduced environmental impact. The Scottish Government has successfully planned and overseen a number of high profile projects in our road network. Our long term vision is coming to fruition, with many of our major projects reaching a crucial phase, and the public will soon start to see many more real benefits.
Scotland’s airports and air services provide connections vital for the economic and social sustainability of some of Scotland’s most remote communities. Our investment in lifeline services reduces the impact of peripherality and provides fast, reliable access to the centres of population for business, health and social purposes. Scotland’s economy is directly harmed by the UK Government’s one-size-fits-all Air Passenger Duty (APD), the most expensive aviation tax in Europe. APD makes the UK the second lowest ranked country in the world for air ticket taxes and airport charges. Westminster justifies the use of this tax in the effect it has of reducing pressure on the over-crowded airports of the south east of England – however, it makes Scotland’s airports uncompetitive, and leaves us fighting for routes that provide economic benefit to Scotland. Nowhere is the structural imbalance of the UK economy, and the distortional effect of the gravitational pull of London, more evident than in aviation policy.
A recent study by York Aviation estimated that APD will cost Scotland more than £200 million a year in lost tourism spend alone by 2016. In addition to the direct losses to the Scottish economy, another report earlier this year by PWC produced evidence that reducing APD would increase other tax receipts, such as VAT. This clearly illustrates why control of fiscal policy is best held in Scotland – and only independence will give us that control.