Taking part in budget negotiations is one of the most challenging parts of the Parliamentary process. The public services we all rely on cannot be delivered without a budget being passed every Spring, and with the Scottish Government being in a minority, at least one other party has to step up.
Since 2016, only the Scottish Greens have negotiated in good faith each time. Others have set unrealistic demands or have not even bothered to enter formal negotiations.
Our budget deals have resulted in hundreds of millions for local councils, including Edinburgh, resulting in planned cuts being cancelled; a pledge to create a disposable drinks cup levy to tackle the scourge of them littering our high streets and parks; devolution of the power to introduce a new tourist tax so that Edinburgh residents and their local services can benefit more from the millions of tourists who visit each year; a community rail fund to help open new stations and reopen closed rail lines; and made income tax fairer to raise more money for services from those who can afford to pay a bit more. And much more besides.
Last week’s budget deal provided a boost of a further £95m for local councils, resulting in an extra £7.43m for Edinburgh Council. Edinburgh will also see its share of an extra £45m of funding for the climate emergency, including extra money for cycling and walking and to tackle fuel poverty, and of a £13m boost to community safety.
But the flagship part of our deal has been to secure free, unlimited bus travel for every single person aged 18 or under. It will work in a similar way to the concessionary travel scheme for older people, offering free travel to school, college, work, sport and out-and-about. Around 66,000 young people in Edinburgh will benefit, and over 810,000 across Scotland.
Getting people out of cars and on to low-emission and low carbon public transport is central to tackling the climate emergency. Transport, mostly passenger cars, are a significant source of greenhouse cases, making up more than a third of total emissions.
The Poverty and Inequality Commission identified expensive travel as contributor towards the unacceptably high levels of poverty we have in this country. Bus fares have increased 11 per cent beyond inflation in the five years to 2018. Citizens Advice Scotland has established that the average return trip to college can be as much as £6, but £10.50 in rural areas.
But free bus travel for under-19s will slash the cost of travel for our young people and families. A student travelling from Bathgate to Edinburgh College’s Granton campus is set to save around £1216 per academic year and a family in Edinburgh will save £304 a year on their child going to and from school if they need to take the bus.
This budget is not perfect, but Greens have worked hard to win concessions which have put almost £100m back into local authority budgets, and resulted in a deal which will, in time, drastically reduce transport costs for young people and their families, increase opportunities for young people to get around for education, sport and leisure, and be part of a major shift in our transport system that our climate so desperately needs.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian region