An organisation spearheading ministers’ drive to increase cycling and walking could be forced to cut 21 jobs because of continued uncertainty over Scottish Government funding for active travel, The Scotsman has learned.
Schemes which face closure because of a threatened £500,000 cut include those targeted at children and people in Scotland’s poorest areas.
The move by Sustrans comes despite an SNP-Greens pledge to significantly increase active travel funding to boost health and the environment and help meet their target of cutting traffic by 20 per cent by 2030.
The Scottish Conservatives condemned the situation as "absolutely scandalous”. It comes days after Scotland on Sunday revealed hundreds of similar projects across Scotland hung in the balance because funding remained confirmed.
These include a free bike scheme run by Forth Environment Link at schools in Stirling and Clackmannanshire that has benefited thousands of children.
A Sustrans spokesperson told The Scotsman: “We have been asked to make substantial savings in our behaviour change programme. This work includes training children on safe cycling, supporting people to walk and cycle to work, and giving marginalised communities the opportunity to access walking and cycling.
“With less Scottish Government funding, we are left with no choice but to make cuts, which will reduce our impact on changing the way people travel every day. As a result, 21 of our Sustrans colleagues in Scotland are now at risk of redundancy and there will be an end or reduction to programmes right across Scotland.”
The spokesperson said Scottish Government spending on infrastructure would continue, although it may be reduced.
However, they stressed: “Building the infrastructure is critical, but uptake will be greatly reduced without encouragement, support and engagement with communities.
“Scotland is leading the way amongst the UK nations in funding and delivery of active travel. We cannot afford to lose this momentum if Scotland is to have any hope of achieving its net zero targets.”
Sustrans also expressed fears about whether the planned further funding increases would materialise. The active travel budget is due to rise from £139 million in 2022/23 to £189m this year and £320m in 2024/25.
The spokesperson said: “We understand there is continued commitment to the promises in the Programme for Government and the Bute House [SNP-Greens] agreement, which proposes increasing the budget to £320m by the end of the Parliament.
"These cuts, however, are a worrying development and we hope it will not put that commitment at risk.”
Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: ”This is absolutely scandalous. Cutting Sustrans’ budget and putting staff at risk of redundancy is not going to get people out of their cars and onto alternatives. This decision must be reversed.”
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said funding was still subject to approval and nothing was yet final, but its biggest priority was infrastructure and it was “absolutely committed” to £320m next year.
Its spokesperson said: "Over the last few weeks, we have had very constructive engagement with our funding partners including Sustrans. We greatly appreciate their patience and support in providing additional information and evidence at this time of heightened scrutiny of all programmes. That work means we expect to be able to confirm further funding for programmes very soon.”