Levy could be lever to get more government money for cycling, argues new BA president

He's in the pay of nobody. He has little bike trade 'baggage', emotional or historic. He's respected by industry and advocates alike. He's listened to by politicians and key bureaucrats. He has the zeal of a convert. He's inclusive, and a diplomat. Marketing could be his middle name. Is Phillip Darnton the two-wheeled lynchpin we've all been waiting for?
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Phillip Darnton was yesterday officially sworn in as president of the Bicycle Association.

Until just a few days ago he was the chairman of Raleigh, having previously been the MD since December 1999. Yet despite these key positions he's managed to remain aloof of industry politics. He has a clean pair of hands, yet with extensive knowledge of the cycle industry from the inside.

He sits on the National Cycle Strategy Board and, on 13th May, will put the case for an overaching marketing strategy for cycling. If the board agrees with the plan, it will be submitted to the Department of Transport.

A cash windfall could be the result. But only if it can be proven that the bike trade can work together. What would be good proof of such unity? A levy. What could the money raised be spent on? How about funding Safe Routes to schools project workers? That's both practical and worthy. It's also the sort of future-facing project so beloved of this government.

Where others may see barriers, Darnton sees bridges:

"There are two prerequisites for success [with the NCSB marketing plan]. First, I have to look my fellow board members in the eyes and tell them that the different parts of cycling are now united. Certainly the CTC, Sustrans, the National Byway, the BA, British Cycling, the ACT and others are all now working together.

"Second, the cycle industry - manufacturers, distributors, everybody - will have to show some form of financial committment because government will not put up money if the companies that stand to benefit most from more cycling going on won't contribute in some form."

At yesterday's AGM there was no dissent about the levy. In fact, there was widespread consent. Companies such as Trek (not currently a BA member), Falcon/Tandem, Universal, Hot Wheels, Giant, Weldtite and others informally gave their blessing to the setting up of a levy, just the sort of 'pushing against an open door' that John Moore of Moore Large talked about last year.

It's likely other companies would later fall into line and back the levy, especially if a carrots-and-sticks campaign were instigated and levy-supporting frame decals produced.

Of course, positive noises have been made before by major industry players, but when it came to signing on the dotted line, they bailed.

Darnton doesn't see that happening again.

"I have no knowledge of 'yesterday'. I want to start with a blank sheet of paper, let's forget the politics. I think agreement [on a levy] can be reached very quickly."

His positions with the National Cycling Strategy Board and the Bicycle Association are unpaid.

Darnton has no axe to grind, no paymasters to appease. At 60 he can now draw down his pension from Unilever and thus has an independent income, and, importantly, time to get his teeth into worthwhile projects.

"I had no idea cycling, and the marketing of it, would capture my imagination in the way it has," said Darnton.

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