Report on Transform Platform for the ConservativesPublished 10 April 2016 by Lotti
Lotti Lancaster reports from the final in the series of our election events.
Phil Matthews, chair of Transform Scotland, gave a brief overview of the event series and Transform’s main campaigns at the moment: the ‘What We Want‘ booklet with our six main demands for sustainable transport, and the ‘Bus Fair‘ campaign calling for a fairer deal for Scotland’s buses.
Alex Johnstone, transport spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, began his speech by discussing roads, specifying that they are the party’s main transport focus. He agreed that road repairs do need to be tackled, but that the government also need to consider how to increase road infrastructure. Johnstone believes Scotland is missing opportunities by not upgrading the road network to England and that the two governments need to work together to fix this.
Johnstone then talked about the franchising of the Scottish rail system which he feels has great deal to improve the service. Carrying on with rail, he talked about High-Speed Rail in England and he believes that the Scottish Government needs to work hard to buy into these changes to ensure Scotland doesn’t miss out on the opportunity. Moving onto freight, Johnstone indicated that certain rail routes that would be most useful for freight (e.g. the Highland Main Line and the Aberdeen-Inverness route) are unsuitable for the task. The challenge of using freight more effectively in Scotland is based on unsuitable infrastructure that requires upgrading. In terms of ferries, Johnstone believes there is a success story to be told of Scotland’s small independent ferry companies, and supported the unbundling of the CalMac franchise; however, he acknowledged that this wasn’t now going to happen.
Johnstone agreed with Transform that smart ticketing would benefit travellers across Scotland. He believes that resources within the bus industry needs to be redistributed to improve rural areas and to enhance community transport. He believes that the concessionary fares should be aligned with pension entitlement as he feels it could be used more effectively. Air Passenger Duty was then discussed, with Johnstone believing that if we are to effectively tax the aviation industry it needs to be negotiated internationally. He felt that APD has failed in its objectives and that it has become a revenue raising tax only. In terms of active travel, Johnstone believes that there should be more investment in active travel, but that it needs to be consistent and grow year on year rather than one large boost. He believes infrastructure that facilitates cycling and walking is absolutely vital.
Questions were then asked by the group around issues of road works, whether departure tax is something that could viably replace APD, Home Zones, devolving authority to Local Authorities, Network Rail privatisation, and reducing congestion.
Phil Matthews concluded the session by indicating that there were clearly a lot of issues where Transform and the Conservatives disagreed, but a number where our interests did align, and that he looked forward to working with the Conservatives on those issues in the next Parliament.