Yesterday in Parliament Labour MP Phil Wilson said the public transport was so bad in his County Durham constituency a Jobcentre Plus is "considering purchasing bicycles so that people can get to work. Is it now the Government’s policy to purchase bicycles so that people can get to work rather than providing public transport?"
In fact, just one job seeker may be provided with a bicycle but this hasn't stopped local newspapers from running shocked news stories and referring to the famous 1980s maxim by Norman Tebbit that the unemployed should "get on their bikes."
Answering on behalf of the Government, Sir George Young seemed to miss Wilson's ridiculing of cycling and instead, alluding to the Cycle to Work scheme, said that he believed "the previous government introduced a scheme whereby employers could make bicycles available on preferential terms to their employees, so there is a precedent."
This missed the point gloriously. Wilson was referring to job seekers, Sir George Young was referring to a scheme for those in employment.
Despite the obvious angles for the tabloid press, none of the redtops has yet latched on to the story. However, the Northern Echo's story has already attracted bilious comments from jobseeker-hating anti-cyclists, such as "haven't they realised it's not the 1930s. Do these idiots seriously believe that other than a tiny minority, most unemployed would never use a bike to look for work."
Peter Zanzottera of SDG adds:
Most of the Local Authorities that are running LSTF projects (Local Sustainable Transport Fund),or have bids under consideration have an initiative to help jobseekers. It’s hardly surprising as it is an obvious measure to couple sustainable transport to economic growth.
The key features of these projects are providing bikes to those that don’t have them, and offering training in Bikeability or cycle maintenance. Although many schemes are hoping to provide recycled bikes the supply chain is notoriously unpredictable and in some cases new or part used bikes are likely to be used.
Targeting particular jobseekers is also a feature as those that are just about to start a new job, attending interviews, or attending training courses seen as the best targets. Targeting is also intended to lower the much publicised risks of bad publicity or the bikes ‘disappearing’ under dubious circumstances. The targeting has to be in partnership with Job Centre Plus and the coterie of contractors that run many of the government schemes. Talking to staff involved reveals that a large number of jobseekers have problems with either the expense or the availability of transport options; this can prevent them from taking up opportunities, or in many cases starting work then finishing within a short period because they encounter difficulties.
This stop / start nature of some jobs is a significant problem in areas with high worklessness and can contribute to high recruitment costs. The roots of these issues are not only to do with transport, but something like cycling is a low cost solution that has wider benefits in helping with confidence, self worth and fitness.
Many of the agencies already give a lot of travel support and discounted travel tickets have proved to be very successful. The agency support can also involved matched funding, as there are discretionary grants for those starting employment and attending interviews.
There are already successful projects, one of which is located in the Don Valley, where Rotheram MBC has worked closely with Ventura to develop cycling with its workforce. South and West Yorkshire PTEs, Transport for Greater Manchester, and Centro all have projects or proposals focused on jobseekers as do many other local authority LSTF bids.