Alastair Dalton: You'll never believe SNP response to road deaths rise

The festive season is traditionally accompanied by a renewed focus on road safety '“ yet another thing for us all to bear in mind at this already stressful time of year.

The Scottish Government plans to cut its road safety budget next year. Picture: Gareth Easton

As well as the annual high-profile drink-drive campaign, the often treacherous winter weather routinely triggers warnings to drivers about the need for extra care.

While the recent cold snap may have ended, a different type of bad weather is already in store for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in parts of Scotland, with yellow severe weather alerts being issued by the Met Office yesterday for heavy rain and potential flooding which could lead to “difficult driving conditions”.

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This is against a background of the death toll on Scotland’s roads hitting at a seven-year high, having increased by nearly 50 per cent in 2016.

That shock figure should have prompted ministers to redouble their efforts to boost road safety and go out of their way to stress the unacceptable fact that 106 people died on the country’s roads last year – nearly one fatality every three days.

In addition, just under 1,700 were seriously injured – more than four a day.

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Death toll on Scotland’s roads soars

The grim news of further deaths keeps on coming, with the latest including a 20-year-old man killed in Perth on Tuesday when his motorbike collided with a bin lorry.

Last week, a 68-year-old bus driver carrying school children died when it crashed near Aberdeen, while a 53-year-old female pedestrian was hit by a car in Dalkeith.

Transport ministers, including the current incumbent Humza Yousaf, have for years trotted out the mantra that “any death on our roads is one too many”.

That has always seemed somewhat trite to me. Not only do we have many deaths to contend with, the total has just risen sharply.

It is in this context that the Scottish Government wants to cut spending earmarked specifically for road safety next year, a detail buried in its draft budget. This ringfenced cash has been maintained at £3 million a year since 2011-12, but will now dip to £2.9m.

That may seen like a small reduction, but with the road safety problem getting worse, it seems to be a move in the wrong direction.

As a comparison, more is due to be spent on developing travel smartcards (£3.3m) and twice as much is to be allocated to prop up ailing Prestwick Airport for another year (£6.5m).

However, from the response I got from Transport Scotland, they don’t seem to think there’s a problem.

When I asked about the cut, it told me: “Significant progress in road safety has been made, with the latest figures showing deaths are down 35 per cent compared to the 2004-2008 baseline. However one death is one too many, and we are committed to further improving road safety and protecting vulnerable users, such as children, pedestrians and pedal cyclists.” That phrase again.

The agency added: “It would be incorrect to draw any correlation between the profile requirements of this budget line and our commitment to road safety.”

But others are unconvinced. Scottish Conservatives transport spokesman Jamie Greene said the SNP had chosen to cut the road safety budget despite its Treasury grant going up in real terms.

To win over the doubters, ministers will have to pull out all the stops to demonstrate they are doing more, not less, on this vital issue.