Ian Duff, Chief Economist of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) addressed the Scottish Region meeting on "The Scottish Council for Development and Industry's Priorities for Passenger and Freight Transport". Mr. Duff began by giving a brief overview to the SCDI, pointing out that it is an independent membership driven organization founded in 1931. Today, it has some 1,200 members across Scotland representing the manufacturing and service sectors, universities and colleges, local government and enterprise networks, trade associations and professional bodies, arts organisations, churches and trade unions.
The SCDI aims to strengthen Scotland's economic competitiveness and prosperity by influencing government policy and it is actively involved in policy issues and economic research. It produces policy papers on a wide range of topics and transport is one of the top three subject areas in terms of the impact on the Scottish economy. Transport is important as it provides the ability to move goods and passengers and in doing so attracts businesses and labour to areas that may not otherwise be able to benefit from economic development. Transport is vital for exporters and it also supplies the country with the means to enable tourism to function. Scotland has an open economy and manufacturing exports amounted to over £15 billion in 2003. These goods all require to be moved to their markets and this requires investment in transport.
There is much that can be done to improve Scotland's transport infrastructure, key points being to address the problems of missing links and removing "pinch points" within the existing transport network. There has been extensive consultation on transport and a new national transport agency, to based in Glasgow, is being set up. Turning to the various transport modes, Mr. Duff outlined some salient points that need to be addressed.
Starting with rail transport, Mr. Duff thought that the key points to consider are the reliability, punctuality and the frequency of services. Providing additional services is constrained by the capacity of the network. Passengers seek a fast, frequent and reliable service and providing a quality service can be the basis for increasing demand, which in turn helps reduce road traffic. It is necessary to improve passenger expectations and provide better intermodal options and improve co-ordination between modes and operating companies. One example is through ticketing, where one ticket covers the whole journey and not just a part of it. Improved facilities are also important, but this impacts on land use planning.
On rail freight transport, Mr. Duff's view is that investment is required to allow growth in freight services and road links need to be improved to enable better interchange with road haulage. There are many opportunities to move freight from road to rail but this can only happen if the appropriate resources are provided and improvements can only occur if there is investment in the network. A key problem is the capacity of the network and it will take investment to address this.
Scotland is already investing in the rail network, with such projects as the Alloa Line, the proposed Waverley Line to the Scottish Borders and improvements on the east and west coast main lines, but there is a need to prioritise these developments. There are many projects competing for a limited resource and some projects depend on the completion of others, for example, in order to increase services from Edinburgh, the upgrading of Waverley Station must first be completed. The funding needed is increasingly difficult to provide and this will be a matter for the new transport agency and regional transport partnerships to address.
Looking at roads, there are a number of major trunk road projects that are needed. It should be remembered that all freight ultimately has to use roads to get to it's final destination and most of these movements will be of a relatively short distance. Spending on trunk roads is essential for Scotland's economy to develop, especially on such projects as the M74 extension, the M8 improvement and the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. Local roads have been grossly neglected over the years and there are a large number of projects competing for available funding, resulting in a need to prioritise these.
Road traffic needs to be managed an the SCDI has accepted that a form of road pricing should be considered. This could be in the form of congestion charging or charging per mile travelled. The benefits of road pricing would be a move away from the existing taxation system to one based on the use of roads. Perhaps a combination of road pricing and congestion charging would be apposite. However, any introduction of such schemes should be coupled with improvements in infrastructure and if hypothecated, the money raised would be an additional revenue stream for such investment.
The bus industry has a major role to play in the Scottish economy as some 35% of households do not have access to a car, resulting in social exclusion if there are no transport facilities available. High frequency bus services can increase demand, but this requires investment to deliver improvements. Whilst there is investment in some areas, this tends to be localised and the money is spent of specific projects. An example of the challenges facing the bus industry is to provide better services in areas that operators would not necessarily provide services on a commercial basis, and the new agency will need to develop policies to address such matters.
Ports play an integral part in the Scottish economy and there are opportunities to reduce the amount of freight on roads by using Short Sea Shipping. This has potential for the distribution of goods. The new ro-ro ferries to Europe, in particular the Superfast ferry service from Rosyth has shown that there is a demand for such services. The SCDI also suggests that the development of new deepwater ports at Hunterston and Scapa Flow will be of prime importance in the future.
Air transport also has its part to play and the main issue is that of Route Development Funding. This will encourage the development of more direct air links for Scotland. There has been growth in the number of direct air links over the years and these benefit the Scottish economy by improving accessibility for tourists. The Scottish Executive has increased the amount of funding available and this should encourage airlines to suggest new routes. Air freight is important, and the bulk of it moves through Glasgow Prestwick International and Edinburgh Airport.
The Scottish Region would like to thank Clydeport for the use of their magnificent offices and Mr. Bill Burns of Clydeport for hosting the event and providing the buffet and wine after the meeting.
Report by John Fender.
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