What's in the water at the Department for Transport? The day before yesterday, Mike Penning, the minister for roads, gave a speech in parliament in which he said, wrongly, that roads are funded by motorists. Today, BikeBiz.com can reveal that Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport, doesn't appear to know he killed off Cycling England.
BikeBiz.com has obtained emails from the special advisers' office of the Department for Transport. These emails show that the Transport Secretary wanted to set up a meeting with Phillip Darnton, chair of Cycling England until March 31st, and wanted the meeting to take place in the Autumn.
In October 2010, Cycling England was one of the arms-length Government bodies culled in the 'bonfire of the quangos'. Cycling England ceased to exist yesterday, with staff losing their jobs or being re-located, and with the DfT-hosted website for Cycling England archived and moved off DfT servers.
On 9th March, The Telegraph ran a story on cycling which was queried by the Secretary of State. On 14th March, Cycling England responded to Hammond, briefing him on the story.
Eleven days later, the special advisers' office of the Department for Transport replied to Cycling England [S of S = Philip Hammond]:
"Thanks very much for this. S of S has noted the contents of the submission and has asked for an update meeting in the autumn. His office will be diarising something accordingly. They will let you when this meeting has been scheduled for and, nearer the time, what will be required for it."
Naturally, Cycling England staff members were bemused by this as the outfit wouldn't exist six days later.
It's believed Phillip Darnton, chair of Cycling England, did not reply to the Secretary of the State as any meeting between the DfT and Cycling England any time after March 31st would be a physical impossibility.
In a riposte to the decision to cull Cycling England, Darnton left a 'farewell note' on the Cycling England website (a note that lasted all of two days as the site has now been removed, with the note now returning a 404 error page):
"The Government’s decision to abolish Cycling England – as being a “quango” – is regrettable, and cost ineffective but it is not the demise of this little group of managers which is to be lamented it is the loss of the nationally extended network of enthusiasts, with their acquired knowledge, skills and engagement which is the real waste.
"Our core hypothesis, back in 2005, was that with a consistent strategy and continuity of funding at a level equivalent to that of cycling towns in Europe, we could reasonably expect to achieve similar rates of growth in everyday cycling. These first six years have already proved us right, and we will all treasure our small part in that success for ever.
"Unfortunately, Government has yet to appreciate these key lessons of consistency, continuity and the need for a long term strategy for an integrated transport policy for Britain. Sadly cycling still seems to be a party political football to be played with according to fashionable ideology or dogma.
"But the challenge facing us – of a real change to behaviour, and of much more cycling especially for short urban trips – is not a quick fix. We never thought it was.
"So my final message as the Chair of the [now] extinct Cycling England is one of determination. Every one of us knows that the challenge is worth all our effort; we all know how relevant and how important it is. In our various ways we will not give up. We know that investment in cycling works; it brings results; it makes a difference to everyone’s life. It’s worth it."