LibDem Minister kills Cycling England

Carlton Reid
LibDem Minister kills Cycling England

No more "dedicated cycling pot of money" says Norman Baker, scrapping pro-bicycle org that costs just £200,000 to run per year.

Cabinet secretary Francis Maude has revealed which of the non-departmental public bodies will be scrapped. As feared, Cycling England is one of them.

Of the 901 non-departmental public bodies reviewed by the Coaltion Government, 192 are to be abolished 118 are to be merged and 380 will be retained.

In a PDF of the Cabinet Office's 'quangos list' Cycling England's fate is sealed thus: "Abolish body. We have announced a Local Sustainable Travel Fund and will explore ways of marshalling expert input on cycling issues, including to support the Fund."

Cycling England was established in 2005 as an independent body to get "more people cycling, more safely, more often." It steered through the Bikeability training scheme for children (300,000 are trained each year), and created the Cycling Demonstration Towns to show that English conurbations would take to cycling if the right pro-bicycle measures were put in place.

But, for what most observers say are ideological reasons dressed up as financial savings, the Coalition Government has scrapped an organisation with just three full-time staff. The cost saving? £200,000 per year, or about the cost of 5 metres of motorway.

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Cycling England had a volunteer board comprising representatives of British Cycling, CTC and Sustrans, and specialists in health, education and sustainable transport.

In 2009/10 the Department for Transport, aided by other departments, such as Health, gave Cycling England a budget of £60m, a tiny fraction of the billions spent on motorised transport.

The majority of this £60m was allocated in grants to local authorities, train operators, National Parks and other bodies for practical cycling projects. Further funds were allocated to a technical advice service, available to all local authorities.  Cycling England had no offices and an overhead of less than 0.1 percent of its budget.

Scrapping such a cost-efficient body, Norman Baker, Under Secretary of State for Transport [pictured], and the minister in charge of cycling, said the decision to scrap Cycling England was motivated by localism:

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

"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."

Talking about the new Local Sustainable Transport fund - which has yet to be allocated a budget and which will be dominated by modes of transport other than cycling – Baker said:

"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."

The abolition of Cycling England will take effect from the end of March 2011.

Cycling England chairman Phillip Darnton said:

"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, 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."

Projects funded by Cycling England are all delivered by local groups, as part of locally determined plans. Achievements of Cycling England - an organisation that mostly works behind the scenes - include a 27 percent increase in cycling trips in three years in Cycling Demonstration Towns against a national trend that has been declining consistently for 50 years.

There had also been a 174 percent increase in trips to school by bike where school cycling programmes were put in place by Cycling England.

Commenting on the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, Cycling England board member Lynn Sloman said:  "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."

While Norman Baker is the name on Cycling England's death warrant, the real decision maker was Transport Secretary Philip Hammond. He's a motoring enthusiast who, upon moving into the post, said he enjoyed taking his Jaguar car on empty stretches of road.

In a 'future of transport' speech at the recent Conservative party conference Hammond didn't mention cycling once but told delegates congested British cities would be relieved when more electric cars came on the market; cars that are the same physical size as petrol cars. [Video of the speech is on YouTube].

Motorists who buy electric cars will be gifted with £5000 sweeteners.

Cyclists, however, from March 2011, will be sidelined. No longer will cycling have an umbrella body which can talk directly, and with authority, to Government departments.

Tags: Cycling England

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