Active travel funding: Where does your council stand?

Money makes the world go round, as the song goes. At the very least, it’s a big factor in the quality and availability of our active travel infrastructure (though that’s a less catchy title for a musical show-stopper). We’ve summarised the evidence on the topic previously, in our briefing on investment. 

So ahead of the local authority elections on 5th May, we took a look at what councils have been spending over the last few years to enable us to walk, wheel, and cycle safely. 

The good people at Cycling Scotland have done a lot of the legwork for us, compiling numbers on active travel funding from each authority as part of their annual monitoring reports (which can be found here). 

These figures are broken down into capital spending (the creation or significant refurbishment of long-term assets; such as a new protected cycle way) and revenue spending (ongoing expenses; such as maintenance, publicity, or training). 

As budgets can vary from year to year, especially if big projects are in the works, we looked at the most recent three monitoring reports (for financial years 2019/20, 2018/19, and 2017/18) and took an average of all the data available. We used population estimates from National Records of Scotland to calculate how much each council had spent on average per resident each year. 

Cycling Scotland note that methods of financial calculation may vary between local authorities, and that these figures may not capture full spend – for instance, where money was spent as part of a regeneration project budget rather than through the active travel budget. Some local authorities were also not able to provide data for both categories or for every year. This might mean that total spend isn’t captured fully here – for instance where a council provided data on capital but not revenue spending. Two councils (Angus and West Lothian) weren’t able to provide any data. We also don’t have any information on what the money was spent on, and we know that lots of different things (of varying usefulness) can be funded under active travel budgets. These are important limitations to consider when we interpret these data. 

With those caveats in mind, here’s what we found. The first thing to say is that there’s enormous variation – from almost £20 per resident per year in Clacks to £1.30 per resident per year in West Dunbartonshire. Again – that caveat that methods of calculation or budget allocation may vary between areas – but these are big differences.

Another source of variation is between capital and revenue spend; for most councils, capital expenditure made up the lion’s share, but Moray and Shetland were exceptions to this rule, as were some of the councils with lower budget allocations like East Ayrshire and West Dunbartonshire. This might potentially reflect councils spending more on awareness or training than hard infrastructure, or it could reflect higher levels of spending on maintenance of existing infrastructure (including gritting in winter) – though without a detailed spending breakdown, we cannot know for sure.

What these data can do, is raise questions…questions you might want to ask your candidates in the election. Can they commit to our pledges on providing sustained, long-term investment in creating streets, paths and footways that make walking, wheeling, and cycling accessible to everyone? Why not send them a link to our investment briefing, and get the conversation started…

* no data available for these local authorities for any of the financial years included

One thought on “Active travel funding: Where does your council stand?

  1. Do I take it that these figures refer to cycling spend only? (££ spent for walking/wheeling seems much less well defined,or available…))

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