Fears over Bikeability's future as Cycling England "faces axe"
Press reports claim pro-cycling body could be victim of coalition government's spending cuts
Cycling England, the body set up by the Department for Transport (DfT) in 2005 to encourage the growth of cycling in England, is rumoured to be facing "an uncertain future" and may fall victim to the coalition government’s "bonfire of the quangoes" in turn sparking fears about the future of Bikeability training – the successor to the Cycling Proficiency Test – for which Cycling England is responsible.
According to the Daily Telegraph with the DfT set to face particularly severe cuts to its budget, there is “growing belief” that Cycling England, which besides administering Bikeability is also responsible for the flagship Cycling Cities, Cycling Towns programme, may be a casualty of the government’s spending review.
The news has sparked concern in some quarters about the future of Bikeability, the cycle training programme aimed at schoolchildren in England, introduced in 2007 as the successor to the Cycling Proficiency Test.
While such rumours could well have substance, they could also be seen as the first shots in what will no doubt become a feverish lobbying process amongst various quangos and “arm’s length bodies” as the budget cuts axe is sharpened for the coming cull.
Peter Lipman, policy director at the sustainable transport charity, Sustrans, told the newspaper: “We are hearing rumours that it will not survive the bonfire of the quangos. Our concern is what that would mean for the test. If Cycling England goes, who would set the standards and run the programme?
He continued: “I remember doing the test in the 1970s and getting a little badge when I passed. Thousands of children used to attach them to their bikes.”
The feared disappearance of Bikeability in particular would appear to be a worst case scenario and the likelihood is that in the event of Cycling England’s demise, the programme would continue with responsibility for its administration falling elsewhere.
Introduced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in 1947, the Cycling Proficiency Test was rolled out nationally following the government’s introduction of the National Cycling Proficiency Scheme in 1958, and was renamed Bikeability three years ago.
A spokesman for RoSPA urged the government to retain the test, saying: “Cycle training is very important and cyclists are among the most vulnerable road users.” She added: “While we recognise in the current economic climate nothing can be ring fenced, not even road safety, we do want to encourage people to cycle.”
Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport, added his voice to support for the test to be retained, commenting: “Everybody says we need to get more people on bikes. If we abolish the test, we will get less. The Government needs to make sure some structure is in place to make sure that cycle training carries on.”
A DfT spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: “The Cabinet Office is reviewing all arms length bodies and an announcement will be made in due course.”
He added: “The coalition government is absolutely committed to supporting sustainable travel initiatives - including cycling - and we are in the process of considering how this best can be achieved.”
One aspect of the rumours surrounding the future of Cycling England that is not addressed in the Telegraph story is the fact that Cycling England was never set up with an ongoing remit anyway. It's current remit ends in 2011 and while it may have been expected that this would have been renewed, at least one Cycling England official that road.cc spoke to last year was clear that the CE's continued existence was not viewed as a foregone conclusion even then.
Cycling England, which is funded by the DfT, was set up in 2005 to replace the National Cycling Strategy Board, whose former chairman, Philip Darnton, took on a similar role at the new organisation. Other board members include Peter King, former CEO and now executive director of British Cycling, Kevin Mayne, chief executive of national cyclists’ organisation CTC, and Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive of Sustrans.
Initially set up with funding of £5 million, Cycling England was awarded £140 million in January 2008 to invest in cycling in England over the next three years following a successful submission to the then Labour Government as part of the Autumn 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.
Cutting Cycling England would not be without it's problems for the Government, it would send out a very mixed message from an administration that is "absolutely committed to supporting sustainable travel initiatives - including cycling" and it would not save much money, as Cycling England is little more than a board of mainly part-time experts tasked with directing DfT spending on cycling where it will be most effective.
However, even if it does survive the present government’s round of spending cuts, there must be grounds for concern about whether investment in cycling even at the current relatively tiny levels can be maintained given the current political climate.