Cycling England on leaked list of quangos to be abolished

Cycling's voice in Whitehall to be silenced and British Waterways is going too

by Tony Farrelly   September 24, 2010  

Cycling England logo.gif

Cycling England, the body responsible for training the nation's children how to ride a bike properly through the Bikeability programme will be abolished along with 177 other quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations (quangos) according to a leaked Cabinet Office list obtained by the BBC (on the list to be retained). The list which is organised by government department contains comments or in politico-speak "reforms" for each quango saying what if anything will happen to its functions in Cycling England's case it is "Abolish as an NDPB - transfer of functions to be confirmed".

Speaking on BBC R4's Today Programme this morning Eric Pickles, the  Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government would neither confirm nor deny the veracity of the list, but from the satisfied tone of his remarks there could be little doubt that the list was genuine, in fact he seemd to hint that the list could yet grow longer. When road.cc tried to contact Cycling England this morning we were told that they no longer have a press office. We have also asked the Department for Transport for a comment too.

Cycling England's mission it is to "Promote increased use of bicycles in England through promotion of cycling, health and transportation" had been rumoured to be facing the axe since earlier this summer. Prior to that it had been assumed that its charter which runs out next year would be renewed. However in the past weeks the hints of its impending demise emanating from Whitehall had become so unmistakeable that the fall of the axe became a matter of when not if. Indeed so certain of its closure was Cycling England board member Christian Wolmar that he recently attacked the government and its Liberal Democrat members in particular for the decision. A Save Cycling England website was also set up by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Cycling England is not a large organisation comprising of a board made up of mainly part time members including representatives of CTC, British Cycling and Sustrans and its job has been to use its expertise and knowledge to help best direct Department for Transport funding for initiatives to boost cycling. It is best known for its Bikeability training programme which replaced the old cycling proficiency test. Bikeability has been taken up by most UK local authorities and offers on-road training to both children and adults. Cycling England had set a target of giving 500,000 primary school children Bikeability training by 2012. As yet there is no indication as to Bikeability's future in a post-Cycling England world and while it would seem unthinkable that the Government would let such a well regarded scheme fall by the wayside… although they have pledged to think the unthinkable.

Given many claimed economic and health benefits that have already accrued from its work many will now question the Coalition Government's commitment to effectively promoting cycling in this country ahead of car use. Given CE's relatively low running costs and the blow to the government's  green credentials that the decision will have, (at this weeks Liberal Democrat conference it was claimed that the new administration would be the greenest in British history) it must be asked whether the reason for abolition is that with the DfT facing budget cuts of up to 40 per cent there will simply be no budget to spend on promoting cycling and cycle safety over the coming years and therefore no need for a body to direct such spending where it can be most effective. 

In it's short period in office the Government has already been responsible for decision that are making the roads of Britain more dangerous for cycling with cuts to local authority budgets leading to speed camera switch offs across Britain - Norfolk was the latest council to announce such a move yesterday a move which the county's director of environment, transport and development Mike Jackson admitted that traffic speeds would be likely to increase without speed cameras and that “more people may be killed or seriously injured in the county”.

Cycling England boldest initiative was funding the programme of Cycling Towns and the Cycling City of Bristol, in an effort to demonstrate that money spent on proper cycling infastructure and in helping people choose other methods of transport other than their cars would be effective in getting more people to cycle.

In its mid-term spending review of the funding it had allocated to the Cycling Demonstration towns programme earlier this year Cycling England claimed to have made some significant progress towards its goals.

  • Cycling trips up on average by 27% in less than three years
  • Cycling to school at least once a week has increased by 126%
  • Growing numbers of new people cycling
  • Significant increase in measures of physical activity – contributing to improvements in health

Commenting on the review at the time a Cycling England statement said:

"Early conservative economic analysis suggests a cost benefit of at least 3:1 in terms of reduced congestion, air quality and improved health. While the success of this demonstration serves only as a guide to encourage initiative and innovation, it is clear these results could be repeated in towns and cities around the country."

Those signigicant cost benefits were not enough to save CE and If such measures are to be rolled out to other towns and cities across the UK, a prospect which must now be in grave doubt, it will not be done under the direction of Cycling England.

Cycling in Britain is likely to be further affected by changes to other quangos too. According to the leaded list British Waterways will be mutualised, many cycle paths and routes run along its network of canal towpaths and in recent years the organisation has done much to promote cycling along its network.

What effect such a move will have on future funding for British Waterways is unclear nor where the responsibility will fall when it comes to maintaining and patrolling these towpaths. One possible outcome is that the burden will fall on to already hard pressed local authorities – expect a big recruitment drive from Sustrans very soon looking for volunteer rangers. It will also be interesting to see whether the coalition government makes it a mandatory responsibility for local authorities to keep cycle routes properly maintained in the same way that there is a legal obligation on councils to maintain the roads under their jurisdiction - in the past some councils have attempted to cut the maintenance budget for cycle paths leading to fears that they will become overgrown and dilapidated.

Prior to the general election the Prime Minister, David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne were both regularly photographed cycling. There have been fewer sightings of them on their bikes since they took office… road.cc has no knowlege ofvwhether Nick Clegg rides a bike or not although given that David and George do it can only be a matter of time before he saddles up, although maybe he doesn't need to bother now.

9 user comments

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I'm a transport planner specialising in sustainable transport and road safety from walking and cycling through to public transport accessibility - the sense of doom and foreboding with a tory transport minister is immense. Expletives can not be found to express my feelings on this particular bit of news and no doubt there will be more to come in this vein.

G-bitch's picture

posted by G-bitch [302 posts]
24th September 2010 - 9:19

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As with G-Bitch; I work for a council and I manage the cycle training programme which is joint funded by my council and cycling england.

Suffice to say, we have not been hopeful about the future. Yes the Tory's are in but the country has been spending way beyond it's means for years. I hope that the cycle training provision can be taken up by another group or by councils individually because it is valuable.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1081 posts]
24th September 2010 - 10:08

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Considering the overall cost of this (and other) quangos under the threat of cuts, I'd really badly like to see the cost benefit or other analysis that went in to deciding what's going to be cut, and what financial value that will bring.

I will be writing to Norman Baker to ask what he's going to do about it ...

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [227 posts]
24th September 2010 - 10:09

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Academics have been shouting about the massively higher cost:benefit ratio of walking/cycling schemes, smarter choices etc. etc. whilst simultaneously attacking the methodologies used to assess scheme benefits. The reason it all falls on deaf ears is cultural and political - at a local level politicians are up for election far too frequently to go against the prevailing noises of the general (driving) public, whilst at a national level they are simply in sway with a culture of car dependency and accommodating growth in car usage that started in the 50's and only began to be questioned in the last ten to fifteen years. The fact that professionals and academics understand the issues does not mean that joe public, and subsequently joe politician, is going to have any meaningful grasp of it and so will just apply their own middle-class, car-dependent, closed-minded prejudices.

G-bitch's picture

posted by G-bitch [302 posts]
24th September 2010 - 10:38

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also on the list:

Commission for Integrated Transport (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/30/motor_speed_governor_ploy/)
Air Quality Expert Group
Expert Panel on Air Quality Standards

under review:

Carbon Trust
Energy Savings Trust
Renewable Fuels Agency

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7322 posts]
24th September 2010 - 10:38

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I'll accept that there is room for efficiency - certainly there is potential to amalgamate some these and reduce costs as a result but the fact that this list appears to be quite old just gives the impression that absolutely zero thought has gone into it. Even those quangos with marginal or unmeasurable benefits are likely to have some valuable work which is worth cherry picking for continuation.

G-bitch's picture

posted by G-bitch [302 posts]
24th September 2010 - 11:09

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Perhaps abolishing Cycling England is a prelude to its role being picked up by the DfT, which will then allocate 10% of its budget to Cycling?

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1335 posts]
24th September 2010 - 11:26

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a slight ray of good news is that british waterways may be being made into a charity like a 'national trust for the waterways' which gives them an ability to raise possibly more money through donations and stops them being at the whims of government but its not without risk (e.g. what if no-one actually donates)

posted by eddie11 [78 posts]
24th September 2010 - 12:18

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Just out of curiosity, is Trident facing the axe? Just what is it supposed to protect us from? And at what cost?

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2190 posts]
25th September 2010 - 21:32

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