As a coalition budget-cutting sword of Damocles hangs ominously over the head of Cycling England, voices have been raised to try to secure a permanent stay of execution for the quango.
Perhaps the most uncompromising is that of Christian Wolmar, a writer and broadcaster who also happens to be on the board of the organisation established in 2005 by the Department for Transport to promote the growth of cycling in the country.
One of Cycling England’s biggest initiatives has been the revamping of the old Cycling Proficiency Test to create Bikeability, a programme of cycle safety training for children which is fit for 21st century England. Its other major undertaking has been the funding and development of 17 Cycling Towns and one Cycling City, Bristol. Research has shown that in the six pilot Cycling Demonstration Towns, between 2005 and 2008 cycling grew by an average of 27%.
Clearly anticipating the axe in a widely predicted bonfire of the quangos, Christian Wolmar’s open letter to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker is blunt to say the least.
“Don’t start blustering that cycling will be safe without Cycling England or a properly-funded successor body. It won’t,” he tells the Minister. “The new fund is not due to start till 2012 anyway, and Cycling England’s money runs out in 2011.”
Wolmar asks the Liberal Democrat politician to consider his personal and the coalition’s stated commitment to cycling, asking him to take look in the mirror and to examine his conscience.
“What have you done so far Norman? By all accounts sat on your hands, and hidden behind your civil servants making no comment on the future of cycle funding… ask yourself this. What is Norman Baker for? Or more precisely, what is the point of you being in the Department for Transport?”
Wolmar ends his missive with a “put up or shut up” message, questioning the Minister’s commitment to the cause of cycling in the context of his party’s coalition with the Conservatives.
“If you are not going to attempt to save the work that Cycling England has being doing, and are going to hide behind this vague general fund which is clearly going to result in far less encouragement for cycling, you really have to ask yourself why you are bothering,” he says.
“No doubt the trappings of office are great fun, but unless you are prepared to stand up for what you believe in, chuck it in Norman. Or battle away hard for it behind the scenes and prepare to stand up and be counted. Show us, in essence, that you are not simply a collaborator.”