Mixed response to budget plans

Kate forbes

Voluntary sector organisations are split over the Scottish Government's draft budget

7th February 2020 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Environmental groups have issued a mixed response to a pledge to increase funding to fight the climate emergency.

The Scottish Government unveiled its annual budget yesterday (Thursday 6 February), pledging £2 billion of “transformational infrastructure investment” in measures aimed at tackling climate change in the next parliamentary term.

Standing in for ex-finance secretary Derek Mackay, who resigned amid scandal only hours before the budget, public finance minister Kate Forbes said ministers would “prioritise multi-year investment in low carbon measures at the scale required to help tackle the climate change emergency”.

Forbes said: “The global climate emergency is at the centre of our Programme for Government and we have already put in place the most ambitious climate legislation and targets of any country. This budget will help deliver on that world-leading ambition.

“From increased investment in low carbon transport to funding for peatland restoration and forestry, this budget sets out our spending plans to help us deliver the transformation we need across society to transition to net-zero.

“We have also put wellbeing firmly at the heart of this budget to benefit as many people as possible across the country. We will do this through prioritising inclusive economic growth with the creation of high quality jobs, supporting our public services and tackling inequalities head on.

“We estimate that we are investing at least £1.4 billion to support low-income households, mitigating the worst effects of the UK Government’s benefit cuts which are hitting the poorest in society and our Scottish Child Payment will help lift 30,000 children out of poverty when it is fully rolled out in 2022.”

However Friends of the Earth Scotland said the budget “included next-to-nothing to transform the transport system.”

The charity’s air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson said: “A climate emergency calls for an emergency response and a serious funding boost, not more timid tinkering at the edges. The Scottish Government promised a budget that would deal with the climate crisis but have failed to put their money where their mouth is.

“This budget fails to invest in the necessary changes to our transport system, which is Scotland’s largest source of climate emissions. The meagre increases in walking and cycling funding once again pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions for motorways and trunk roads. You get what you pay for and Scotland is going to get more climate pollution from road transport.

“Apart from the welcome extension of concessionary bus travel to young carers, there is nothing here to arrest the shocking decline in bus passenger numbers. Scottish towns and cities are trailing behind European counterparts, with a car-dominated transport system that is choking our lungs and harming the planet.”

However WWF Scotland was more positive about the measures included. The group’s head of policy Gina Hanrahan said: “This draft budget clearly steps up funding to tackle the climate crisis. The increase in investment will help to reduce emissions and soak up more carbon, create new jobs and cleaner air.  

“It's welcome to see additional investment in heat networks, sustainable transport, as well as support for farmers to reduce emissions, and significant new investment in peatlands – our natural ally in the fight against climate change. 

“While some additional funding for energy efficiency is a move in the right direction, this falls short of the transformational funding needed to tackle our leaky homes, cut fuel poverty and put Scotland at the forefront of the transition to high performing, green homes. We want to see this prioritised for additional funding.”

The budget also included £137 million to help provide dedicated energy efficiency measures such as the provision of insulation, new heating systems and advice and information for renters and homeowners.

The Existing Homes Alliance Scotland said the funding increase falls well short in delivering climate friendly homes.

Lori McElroy, chair of the Existing Homes Alliance said: “While we welcome the increase in funding for energy efficiency and fuel poverty, the allocation is still over £100 million less than the £240 million needed to bring housing emissions into line with our climate ambitions.

“Investing in the energy efficiency of our homes will have far reaching benefits beyond reducing fuel poverty and carbon emissions. It will improve health and wellbeing, saving money for the NHS, create jobs across Scotland and ensure that our homes are fit for a zero-carbon future.

“Failure to invest properly in energy efficiency will drive up the cost of heat decarbonisation, and risk undermining efforts to alleviate fuel poverty.”

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) delivered a “cautious welcome” to the proposed energy efficiency spending measures however Sally Thomas, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), said: “Overall, we are disappointed with today’s draft budget. Key opportunities to increase funding for measures that would make a real difference to people’s lives – such as energy efficiency and adaptations – have not been taken. The small increase in energy efficiency funding is only a fraction of what is needed – as part of the Existing Homes Alliance we had called for it to be doubled.

“However, we welcome the increased funding to tackle poverty through the Scottish Welfare Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments. This funding will help people to sustain their tenancies and continue to mitigate the bedroom tax.”

Welcoming the £21 million committed for the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment and the £3.5 million increase in funding for the Scottish Welfare Fund, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)  in Scotland said measures included would not be sufficient to meet the government’s own legally binding child poverty reduction targets.

CPAG Scotland director John Dickie said: “Whilst the existing spending commitment to introduce the Scottish Child Payment is hugely welcome, this budget so far represents a missed opportunity to go further and demonstrate that budget decisions across the board, including on housing, transport, tax and employment, are being driven by the government’s own statutory child poverty targets. With UK government benefit cuts driving more and more families into hardship the Scottish Parliament must use every tool in its toolbox to protect Scotland's children.”

Sean Duffy, chief executive of the Wise Group, welcomed an additional £6.5 million for community justice services including the expansion of mentoring services. He said: “This will further support activities to reduce reoffending and make communities safer. More prisoners are entering prison than are coming out and we’re well placed to continue to support the Cabinet Secretary and others to address that. We want to see more person-centred support through mentoring at the heart of this.”