This year’s Programme for Government makes welcome commitments to increasing active travel and physical activity. The impact of these commitments will depend on investments that are inclusive to as many people as possible.
As Scotland’s walking charity, we believe that physical activity, and in particular walking, should be prioritised as the Government delivers on this Programme.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to increase investment in sport and active living to £100 million per year.
We want to see investment in physical activity prioritised.
Physical activity refers to all bodily movement and should not be confused or conflated with sport. Not everyone is sporty, but everyone can move their bodies and be physically active.
Therefore, prioritising physical activity is the population-wide approach that will impact so many more people to enjoy the benefits to social, mental and physical health. It is a fairer approach. It makes active living inclusive to all, including people living with long-term conditions or a disability.
Walking is one of the most inclusive and accessible forms of physical activity. Increasing investment in it nationally and locally will increase the scale, pace, and reach of change.
We are pleased to see the investment of at least £320 million or 10% of the total transport budget on active travel by 2024-25 – making it more attractive for people to walk, wheel and cycle.
Walking and wheeling should have a significant element of this increased budget. They are the most inclusive modes of transport. They are top of the transport hierarchy and are key to changing travel behaviour for short journeys.
Active travel is of course vital to reducing transport emissions to meet the challenges of the climate emergency. The incidental everyday physical activity of getting from A to B has huge health benefits too.
Public and sustainable transport
We’re supportive of the Programme for Government seeking to reach net-zero and decarbonisation commitments through an ambitious reduction car travel (a 20% reduction in car km by 2030). This is to be delivered through increased active travel and public transport.
More good steps forward are free bus travel for under-22s, the commitments to support public transport services which meet local needs and the introduction of a Community Bus Fund, supporting local transport authorities to improve public transport.
Walking is essential to the success and delivery of public transport, as most journeys start and finish on foot. Increasing bus and train travel will reduce car use and ownership. If the government get it right in increasing sustainable transport journeys an increase in walking will be part of that.
However, this behaviour change will require investment. There is an opportunity to embed walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport into the culture of our everyday lives through investment in infrastructure and behaviour change programmes.
The Government’s commitment to 20-Minute neighbourhoods is positive too. We are pleased to see this present in active travel commitments, the National Planning Framework and a Place Based investment programme.
We wholeheartedly agree with the approach to create connected places where people can have their needs met locally within a short walk from their homes. This will reduce emissions and encourage active travel.
We would like to see the creation and maintenance of paths and routes to enable people to enjoy walking and to travel actively. Implementing a scaled programme of maintenance and route development to make paths accessible, attractive and the obvious choice for short journeys will support the 20-minute neighbourhood concept.
Protecting the NHS
In her foreword to the Programme for Government, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, put a focus on continued government messaging about ‘protecting the NHS’. While of course front of mind is the response to the pandemic, what we feel is missing is a focus on the preventative health agenda. Investment in public health to support people to live actively and healthily, will reduce the burden and ‘protect our NHS’ in the long term.
Increased physical activity has been identified as boosting immune response and research shows that physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. Therefore we hope to see physical activity recognised and included within plans for Scotland’s resilience and recovery from Covid-19.
Mental health and wellbeing
The Programme for Government put emphasis on mental health with a statement to improve national wellbeing with increased investment in mental health – of at least 25%. There is also a focus on improving wellbeing of health and care staff specifically, a commitment to increased mental health resources for GPs with funding for 1000 extra staff who can help grow community mental health resilience and direct social prescribing.
We are glad to see this prioritised and can again extol the virtues of walking, physical activity and nature connectedness as part of mental health and wellbeing programme delivery.
There are promising commitments in the Programme for Government and we’ve identified many areas within it where the thread of increased walking can contribute to its delivery.
The wide-ranging policies and commitments where walking is relevant underlines its potential impact. It can help improve people’s lives. As a nation it can help Scotland to overcome the big issues facing us as we stride forward from the pandemic, tackle health inequalities and start to live up to the challenges of the climate emergency.
You can download the Programme for Government 2021-22 on the Scottish Government website.