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.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.