Consultation – what’s the point?

Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer, Simon Ritchie, spent 2018 consulting older people in Scotland on transport. He reports here on his findings.

“Is this actually going to change anything?”

As I toured Scotland asking older people for their views on transport, this question came up a lot. My task was to work with Transport Scotland, the transport arm of the Scottish Government, to make sure that older peoples’ interests were accounted for in the new National Transport Strategy (NTS).

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Simon Ritchie – Age Scotland’s Policy Engagement and Campaigns Officer

People had taken part in consultations before, they said, and it never seemed to change anything. However, as the consultation process went on, and after some reflection, I know the answer: yes, this will change things for the better. Let me explain.

Scotland’s population is ageing. The number of people aged 75+ is set to double in the next two decades. That’s great news – people are living longer, healthier lives – but as the demographics of our society changes, so too must our infrastructure if it is to remain fit for purpose. If the transport system doesn’t work for older people, it doesn’t work. Full stop.

So what works, and what needs to change?

Through a series of twenty transport workshops in every corner of Scotland, I and the civil servants I brought with me learned a great deal. Some findings were not surprising:

  • 2/3 of older people say they use public buses frequently
  • Reliance on cars is more prevalent in rural areas
  • The top three reasons for travelling are shopping, socialising and attending medical appointments.

Amongst the more striking findings were that

  • 1/3 of older people use public transport to commute to voluntary work – offering their valuable time, skills and experience to society.
  • 1/3 of older people say they’ve experienced difficulty getting to a medical appointment because of transport problems.
  • 1/2 say they’d use public transport more if services ran more frequently, and 1/2 of those living in rural areas say they’d take the bus if services ran later in the evening. Indeed, several older people who cannot drive said they felt under curfew in the evenings due to having no transport.

We now have a much better idea of what older people think about transport, and what they think should change. So how will this information and insight be used?

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Firstly – all our findings have been passed on to Transport Scotland in full. Already, many of the policy proposals we have put forward have been adopted into the draft NTS. From late 2019, the NTS will be the document that all levels of government should refer to whenever they make a transport-related decision. Age Scotland will hold them to it.

Secondly – we are using our findings to shape our position on the Scottish Government’s new Transport Bill, which gives Councils more power to improve local bus services. So there is a broader use for this information.

And finally – consultation matters because older people’s involvement in policy development keeps government on its toes and older people’s interests on the agenda.

A huge ‘thank you’ to all who took part in the 2018 Age Scotland transport workshops around the country. It’s been worthwhile and we know that the Scottish Government is listening and acting. If Age Scotland is a vehicle for change, it’s older people who are in the driving seat.


For more information please visit the Age Scotland website or contact Simon Ritchie – Policy Engagement & Campaigns Officer at Age Scotland – at simon.ritchie@agescotland.org.uk or on 0131 668 8047

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