Chronicle of a Death Foretold: Cycling England is Dead

Long live, er… you'd better ask Phillip Hammond and Norman Baker

by Simon_MacMichael   October 14, 2010  

Cycling England logo.gif

Fears that Cycling England, the body whose activities include co-ordinating Bikeability training for schoolchildren and which also instituted the Cycling Demonstration Towns initiative, would fall victim to the coalition government’s so-called ‘Bonfire of the Quangos’ have been confirmed by the Cabinet Office this morning.

The organisation is one of almost 200 that will be culled as part of the coalition government’s spending review, although The Daily Telegraph claims that cost savings will be limited as many functions of the bodies to be scrapped will be transferred to other organisations within Whitehall and elsewhere, and ministers are instead pointing to increased transparency and accountability as justification for their reforms.

Indeed, the trade website BikeBiz points out in an article published this morning that Cycling England, which has only three full-time staff with its board drawn on a voluntary basis from organisations such as CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling, costs just £200,000 a year to run.

Set up in 2005, Cycling England had a budget of £60 million in 2009/10, the money coming from the Department for Transport elsewhere in Whitehall such as the Department for Health, and co-ordinates allocation of those funds for cycling initiatives to local authorities and other bodies such as National Parks and train operators.

The body also provides a unified voice for cycling at national level, one that is now set to be silenced at a time when it is perhaps more needed than ever before to prevent the work taken to increase levels of cycling in England in recent years being undone.

Norman Baker, the Under Secretary of State for Transport, told BikeBiz that scrapping Cycling England was part of a move to give more power and responsibility to local authorities, saying “We want to give more power and more flexibility to local authorities as we strongly believe that they know best what is right for their communities.”

"This new Coaltion Government is firmly committed to cycling. That is why it is expressly referred to in the Coalition Agreement," he insisted.

That reference, however, is limited to the following: “We will support sustainable travel initiatives, including the promotion of cycling and walking, and will encourage joint working between bus operators and local authorities.”

That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, and the cycling community in England is unlikely to have been reassured by a speech on ‘the future of transport’ at last month’s Conservative Party Conference in which Baker’s boss, Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond, did not make a single reference to cycling, instead pointing to electric cars as the way to help address traffic congestion.

That omission doesn’t inspire confidence and may seem surprising given the success of London’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme introduced by one of Hammond’s fellow party members, Mayor of London Boris Johnson, in July this year, let alone Prime Minister David Cameron's cycle commuting photocalls while in opposition.

At the same time, however, the Secretary for State, a self-confessed motoring enthusiast, did cause unease among cyclists at the time of his appointment when he said “I've never actually cycled in London. I'd have to take a deep breath. I think you need to know what you are doing to cycle in London.”

Following the abolition of Cycling England in March next year, cycling initiatives in the country will be left to compete with other forms of transport for funding from the government’s Local Sustainable Transport, which does not yet have a budget, and which is thought likely to benefit other forms of transport.

However, Baker maintains that decentralisation is the way forward, saying: “As there will no longer be a dedicated cycling pot of money, but instead a much broader fund, we feel that Cycling England is not the right way to continue to incentivise and encourage local authorities and others to stimulate cycling."

While it is hoped that Bikeability training will continue, no framework has yet been put in place, and Cycling England’s chairman Phillip Darnton is fearful for its future direction, telling BikeBiz: "Critically the decision to abolish Cycling England threatens the future of national cycling proficiency training, Bikeability. This scheme currently receives £12 million p.a. through Cycling England from the Department for Transport.

"Over 90 percent of all local authorities are involved in and benefitting from the programme, as are over 50 percent of all School Sports Partnerships – of which every school in England must be a part.

"While the Under Secretary of State has indicated that the Department for Transport will maintain support for the scheme,” he continues, “there are as yet no details as to how this will be effected.



"Neither the Minister nor DfT officials will discuss either the level of funding or the scale of their future intentions for cycle training. We will be pressing for clarification as soon as the Comprehensive Spending Review is published on October 20th.

"Discontinued funding would mean a new generation lost to cycling, and a risk of increased accidents through lack of proper instruction. This prospect is alarming in its implications for childhood obesity and the environmental impact of a further increase in car trips to school."


Referring to the new Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Darnton’s fellow Cycling England board member Lynn Sloman told BikeBiz: "If the Government is to build on the last five years’ progress in getting more people cycling, it will need to do more than simply allocate grants.



"Cycling England’s experience is that in order to get results, you need to cut through the red tape, and really support, engage, enthuse and challenge. You need to combine the energy and passion of the cycling NGOs with the expertise of professional local authority teams; you need to share ideas and experience; and you need visionary leadership."



Meanwhile, Malcolm Shepherd, Chief Executive of Sustrans, warned that there was a risk of people's travel options being restricted if current investment in low-cost schemes to promote cycling, walking and public transport were not maintained.

“Cycling England has been a crucial conduit for funding which has touched the lives of millions of people by making it possible for people to cycle for everyday journeys," he said..

“With increasing challenges of health, congestion, carbon reduction and energy security, the low cost solution that cycling offers must be pursued with more vigour than ever. And local authorities must increase their efforts to work with charities and other partners to make it possible for more people to get around by bike."

Mr Shepherd continued: “The new Local Sustainable Transport Fund must not be a smokescreen for wider cuts to the spending that gets people cycling, walking and using public transport. From Sustrans' own practical work we know that minimal investment can reap huge rewards, for example, every £1 spent on encouraging people to change their travel behaviour brings a benefit of £8. The Fund must ensure that the benefits of Cycling England's successful work are not lost and smarter travel choices are extended to an increasing number of people.”

Paradoxically, Sir Philip Green’s report published earlier this week on government efficiency, which Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude acknowledged uncovered waste on a “staggering” scale, argued in favour of retaining quangos, a recommendation that today’s news demonstrates has been ignored.

Instead, while those who have worked so hard to promote bike riding under the Cycling England umbrella will clearly continue to do so through their respective organisations, there can be little doubt that the demise of the body will make their task harder.
 

13 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I would like to flag this decision as offensive.

posted by stereojet [118 posts]
14th October 2010 - 9:08

3 Likes

Ditto.

If I really though the Government were in anyway committed to cycling, I wouldn't be so angry about this decision, but I don't get the impression that they give a damn about cycling - or pedestrians, frankly.

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [229 posts]
14th October 2010 - 9:13

3 Likes

that'll be more pockets lined with expenses then .... why
do we even bother Crying

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [727 posts]
14th October 2010 - 9:39

4 Likes

like Carlton Reid has said elsewhere, the equivalent of five metres of a motorway scheme

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7437 posts]
14th October 2010 - 10:16

3 Likes

Morons.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1358 posts]
14th October 2010 - 11:54

3 Likes

Cycling England put funding into so many projects that changed people’s lives and increased the number of people cycling. Surely, no one can disagree that cycling is so beneficial to individuals, communities, the environment and the nation’s economy. I am not angry just saddened that the new Gov. is so short is sighted and we will be regressing on all the great work already completed.

Why drive?

posted by ian the cycling eel [2 posts]
14th October 2010 - 12:14

3 Likes

Monkeys. It's the monkeys running the zoo once more.

Sadly cycling is still a fringe activity in this country and therefore requires support. This is financial, political, public... the list is endless.

It's a sad day. R.I.P Cycling (in) England.

Katja Leyendecker
kleyendecker.co.uk
newcycling.org.uk

Katsdekker's picture

posted by Katsdekker [12 posts]
14th October 2010 - 12:49

4 Likes

Oi!

I got a letter from the government the other day, I opened and read it, it said they were suckers. And that their plans for our transport infrastructure were severely short sighted and focussed almost exclusively on private cars.

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

John_the_Monkey's picture

posted by John_the_Monkey [422 posts]
14th October 2010 - 14:11

3 Likes

Well I can only encourage everyone to head off to http://www.theyworkforyou.com/ and lobby their MP. It takes less than five minutes to write a letter, stick in the Save Cycling England link (http://www.savecyclingengland.org/) and send it on ...

(Yes, I have eaten my own burgers on this one, admittedly in a mild and polite way: http://groupthinkrules.blogspot.com/2010/10/letter-to-my-mp-re-cycling-e...)

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [229 posts]
14th October 2010 - 14:30

3 Likes

I've had my say too. Come on everyone, let's make waves.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7437 posts]
14th October 2010 - 14:45

3 Likes

'Norman Baker, the Under Secretary of State for Transport, told BikeBiz that scrapping Cycling England was part of a move to give more power and responsibility to local authorities, saying “We want to give more power and more flexibility to local authorities as we strongly believe that they know best what is right for their communities.”'

A cursory glance through the images contained in the 'Facility of the Month' section here http://www.warringtoncyclecampaign.co.uk/ (and later immortalised in 'Crap Cycle Lanes') confirms my belief that local authorities haven't a clue what's right for their communities, least of all cyclists.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [209 posts]
14th October 2010 - 15:16

3 Likes

I'd write to my MP, but since he's the bloke ultimately in charge of the whole sorry mess, I'm not sure it would do much good. The Right Honourable Member for Witney, in case you hadn't worked it out At Wits End

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8263 posts]
14th October 2010 - 15:22

3 Likes

Well, mine got back to me pretty quickly. Not, however, that his reply fills me with real confidence that the Government *is* committed to cycling:

"Dear Tim Lennon,

Thank you for your email. I am an advocate of green transport, particularly
cycling. I don't yet know that Cycling England is to be closed, but
regardless, I accept that the Government will have to do many unpopular
things in the coming months, and for good reason.

But the Government takes cycling seriously. For example, to assist increased
provision of cycle training in England, the Department for Transport has
awarded grants of over £6 million in 2010-11 for "Bikeability" training.

The Government has also committed to providing £5 million to schools through
School Sports Partnerships in England to provide further Bikeability
opportunities. A further £500,000 has been made available in 2010-11 to
provide bursary grants for new instructors to help meet the increased demand
for Bikeability training. Schemes such as CyclingCity, CyclingTowns,
Skyride and 3 Feet Please are also proving successful locally and are
helping to promote cycling as a viable transport alternative.

The Government will be reviewing all spending throughout its Comprehensive
spending review, due to be published on October 20. Cycling England will be
considered throughout the review, alongside all Government expenditure
commitments.

Best wishes,

Zac Goldsmith"

timlennon's picture

posted by timlennon [229 posts]
15th October 2010 - 9:23

3 Likes