Cycling strategy? What cycling strategy?

Killing Cycling England leaves government with a cycling strategy in disarray and difficult questions to answer

by Simon_MacMichael   October 15, 2010  

Cycling England logo.gif

As the dust settles on yesterday’s news that the Coalition Government is to disband Cycling England in March next year, it’s sobering to reflect how quickly the Tories’ manifesto pledge that “encouraging cycling will be a major priority for a future Conservative Government” appears to have been torn up during the party’s first five months in power.

During that period, the impact has also started to be felt of the 40% cut in the Road Safety Grant, a measure that lies squarely at odds the Liberal Democrats’ own manifesto pledge to “further boost cycling through our commitment to improving road safety, road quality and reducing traffic levels, on-road cycling which will make cycling easier, safer and more accessible to all.”

The signs that pre-electoral promises of promoting cycling were evident as soon as the coalition came into being, the agreement that underpins it making only the briefest of passing references, immediately followed by the appointment of a Secretary of State for Transport who is at best ignorant of, and at worst hostile towards, those of us who choose to ride bikes.

The efforts of Mayor of London Boris Johnson to bring about a cycling revolution may have been derided in some quarters, with the Cycle Superhighways described as nothing more than a lick of paint and doubt expressed among cycle campaigners over whether the city’s Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme will truly bring cycling to the masses, or whether it’s simply a massive waste of money, with investment outweighing the benefits.

But whether or not you agree with how Johnson is going about promoting cycling in the capital, it’s undeniable that he is doing something, and that unlike his fellow Bullingdon Club alumnus now occupying Number Ten, cycling means more to him than simply providing an environmentally friendly photocall.

Moreover, the Cycle Hire Scheme, while currently lacking the scale of Vélib’ in Paris, does underline the potential popularity of cycling as a form of urban transport as well as its ability to turn a profit.

As Carlton Reid has pointed out on BikeBiz, the money saved by abolishing Cycling England is equivalent to that spent on building just five metres of motorway. With the benefits of cycling to the economy well documented, there certainly seems to be no logic behind abolishing Cycling England on economic grounds alone.

Indeed, the government itself has said tha yesterday’s announcement of the decision to dispense with close to 200 quangos was less to do with financial considerations – although the list was drawn up as a result of the public spending review – than with increasing transparency and accountability.

Again, however, it’s difficult to see how that justifies the action taken in Cycling England’s case – it acted as an expert body dispensing funds to local authorities who then had to answer to their local electorates for how they spent them , and it doesn't get more accountable than that.

That in turn begs the question of what the government's precise reasoning was for killing a useful quango that cost a mere £200,000 a year to run.

Cycling England’s demise means that cycling no longer has a unified body to put its case in the corridors of power, and no longer has a readily identifiable budget that can be allocated to specific initiatives that take the national picture into account.

Instead, cycling in England will be left to fight for cash from the much vaunted but little explained Local Sustainable Transport Fund, which as yet has no budget, and investment will largely depend on the whim and political priorities of local authorities.

With sports governing bodies bracing themselves for an expected 30% cut in funding under the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, due to be published next week, things could get worse yet.

If we’re not doing so already, by the time the London Olympics begin on 27 July 2012, we may well be looking back on the years of the Labour Government not only as a golden age for investment in cycling infrastructure, but also for British success at the elite level of the sport.

Clearly, nothing we or anyone else in the cycling world says is going reverse Cycling England’s death sentence, but we can work together to weather the storm and hope for brighter days ahead.
 

15 user comments

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Cycling Endland was supportive no doubt but was it an expert body? The chair, Philip Darnton, by his own admission isnt a cyclist and doesnt really know much about cycling. He is an ex executive for glaxosmithkline.

Absolutely no doubt he tried to push the importance of cycling along with his team but there must be some truth in the comments about the previous government staffing these bodies with their own kind.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1073 posts]
15th October 2010 - 11:41

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ah, he may not be a cyclist but the rest of the board certainly do represent cycling, BC, CTC & Sustrans are/were all on it + people with backgrounds in public health, transport exerts like Christian Wolmar. It pooled knowledge and the cycling bodies made sure that CE's decisions were informed by people with a proper knowledge of all aspects of the subject and how it really is, not how a civil servant or government minister might think it is.

tony_farrelly's picture

posted by tony_farrelly [4050 posts]
15th October 2010 - 12:03

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Dont get me wrong, I think its a real shame that CE is going and it shouldnt happen.

I had only met Mr Darnton, not the others so I now feel properly informed, cheers Tony!

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1073 posts]
15th October 2010 - 12:19

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Well, investment already largely
depended on the whim and political priorities of
local authorities. Just because CE had money didn't mean councils would apply for it, or apply for good schemes instead of the latest sustrans folly.

posted by a.jumper [542 posts]
15th October 2010 - 12:32

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Well they didn't have any problem getting councils to apply for the money they'd got and they were pretty hot on monitoring the way council's spent it too and on the results it got, but let's also not forget that the millions they had to give out were peanuts in transport budget terms, a fraction of the budget for a mile or so of urban dual carriageway.

Any particular Sustrans folly you had in mind? Their routes around here are heavily used.

tony_farrelly's picture

posted by tony_farrelly [4050 posts]
15th October 2010 - 12:50

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Jon

Sorry to burst your bubble but you're 100 percent wrong.

Phillip Darnton rides a bike. He has a Dahon in his London flat and I've ridden with him.

Does he wear Lycra? No.

He is not ex of Glaxosmithcline. His background was in FMCG marketing, including soap brands. Oh, and he was also MD of Raleigh.

Many in the bike industry (and I'm one of them) think Phillip is the best ambassador we've ever had for cycling. Losing his diplomatic skills is a crying shame.

Hoverboard Hammond doesn't give a stuff for cycling and was happy to kill off Cycling England. To him, cycling is a joke. Those in his Department who know better (Villiers and Baker) were too spineless to stand up to Hammond. Lots of 'quangos' have survived the cull. No doubt many of them deserve to survive, but Cycling England should have been one of them.

The promotion of cycling will be set back many years by the spite of Hammond and the weakness of Villiers and Baker.

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posted by Carlton Reid [92 posts]
15th October 2010 - 13:00

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Yeah, I thought he'd been MD of Raleigh…

Yes, the decision to kill Cycling England doesn't seem to meet the government's own criteria for culling quangos in fact it would seem to run counter to them: it doesn't increase accountability or transparency - quite the reverse; and it won't save any money - again probably quite the reverse.

As yet, no-one from the DfT or the cabinet office has come up with a rational explanation for this cut that amounts to anything more than 'because we wanted to'

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posted by tony_farrelly [4050 posts]
15th October 2010 - 13:06

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Fair enough Carlton, I stand corrected. I was merely going on what he said to me at the delayed cycling city launch about 18 months ago.

Thanks for the information.

not all carbon is the same.

Jon Burrage's picture

posted by Jon Burrage [1073 posts]
15th October 2010 - 13:13

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Cycling England fed lots of cash to Sustrans who used it in their usual way. Bikeability should continue, which is good. Some of the other schemes which used up the Cycling England grants were good and some were bad.

All in all, I don't think we will miss them

We won't look back and say "the early 21st Century was a golden age of cycling thanks to Cycling England"

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posted by vorsprung [249 posts]
15th October 2010 - 14:11

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Well you obviously won't Vorsprung. I'm not quite so Sustrans-phobic as you seem to be though. Plus I'm not sure that you've got your facts right either - how much CE cash did Sustrans get? I think most of the funding for their projects has come from the lottery rather than CE.

Most of CE's budget went direct to the councils of cycling demonstration towns and cities as funding to be matched by the councils.

As for not looking back on the early 21st Century as a golden age of cycling thanks to Cycling England - well, we won't get the chance now will we?

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posted by tony_farrelly [4050 posts]
15th October 2010 - 14:20

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tony_farrelly wrote:

Yes, the decision to kill Cycling England doesn't seem to meet the government's own criteria for culling quangos ... it won't save any money - again probably quite the reverse.

The budget is £60 Million PA

Around a 1/3 of their budget goes on the cycling towns thing. This will probably stop entirely.

Another third goes on Bikeability. This is allegedly ring fenced. So let's assume this will continue

Another third goes on other stuff. Presumably with the Olympics coming up British Cycling will continue getting funded from this stream. Let's assume that there are some other exceptions so half of this section of the budget will remain

If that is right then roughly half of the £60 Million will be cut

£30 million quid is isn't much in the scheme of things with billions of debt, but it is a saving

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [249 posts]
15th October 2010 - 14:23

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CE cost £200K to run and was effectively an expert body charged with helping the DfT spend its cash wisely - it was basically the cycling arm of the Department for Transport.

The money for the Cycling towns and cities is effectively spent - because it was committed as match funding.

British Cycling aren't funded by the DfT - their government cash comes from Sport England.

tony_farrelly's picture

posted by tony_farrelly [4050 posts]
15th October 2010 - 14:48

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Not £60m per year.

£60m over two years.

Carlton Reid's picture

posted by Carlton Reid [92 posts]
15th October 2010 - 16:27

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tony_farrelly wrote:
Any particular Sustrans folly you had in mind? Their routes around here are heavily used.

Their routes around here are used too but many were afore they were relabelled with sustrans numbers.

The Bristol area has some particulaly good sustrans routes to nowhere. I seem to recall one down a flight of steps by their HQ. A bit more complete but Route 41 beside the avon was in pretty bad nick.

posted by a.jumper [542 posts]
16th October 2010 - 3:14

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You might ask what is "the government's precise reasoning was for killing a useful quango that cost a mere £200,000 a year to run."

The answer is simple: they are THE TORIES. No further explanation required.

"Cycling England’s demise means that cycling no longer has a unified body to put its case in the corridors of power"

They do not want cycling to have any influence at all. Boris's advert for Barclays in the capital is potentially good PR for him and the sponsors, their buddies who run a vast money-laundering business. Can't say I'm surprised, it is so reminiscent of the Thatcher years Sad

The Lib-Dems are pawns, and just making up the numbers - see Tuition Fees for proof.

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posted by Simon E [1587 posts]
16th October 2010 - 21:19

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