Labour and the Conservative party are committed to spending billions on new roads for motorists but cyclists can go whistle, if yesterday’s election exchanges are anything to go by. The parties appeared to squabble over which would spend the least on measures to make cycling safer.
A Tory party document claimed that Labour would resurrect Cycling England and that this would cost £63m. A press statement from shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the Tory dossier was “full of wild assertions” and that claiming a Labour government would spend £63m on cycling was “just nonsense.” Balls said Labour had yet to make any spending commitments on cycling. Clearly, if the Tories believe £63m is a figure worth highlighting neither of the main political parties are likely to make the sort of firm, long-term financial pledges that the all-parliamentary Get Britain Cycling report of 2013 said would be necessary to boost bicycle use.
In A Cost Analysis of Labour Party Policy, wheeled out by five government ministers, the Tories claimed a Labour government would “cancel abolition of Cycling England and Cycling Towns and Cities initiatives.” The document attached a price tag of £63m on such a move. The Tory claim was based on Labour’s National Policy Forum Report from September 2014 which did not state that Cycling England would be resurrected but did state that “This Government has failed to promote and develop cycling. One of their first acts was to close Cycling England – the independent body to promote cycling – and abandon the Cycling Towns and Cities initiatives which the last Labour Government introduced. The next Labour Government will take steps to promote cycling by making it safer and more accessible.”
Cycling appears to be in "ministry of silly walks" territory for treasury wonks. Labour was also quick to distance itself from any funding commitments for its policies on cycling.
“This dodgy Tory dossier is riddled with untruths and errors on every page,” said Ed Balls. “They say that a commitment to “take steps to promote cycling by making it safer and more accessible” amounts to a £63 million spending commitment to cancel the abolition of Cycling England Towns and Cities initiatives – this is just nonsense.”
Roger Geffen, CTC’s campaigns and policy director, said:
“This fierce competition between Conservative and Labour party leadership over how not to spend money on cycling is massively disappointing, particularly when battle lines for May’s election are being drawn on road expenditure.
“There has been universal back-bench recognition of cycling’s benefits, and it is about time that the two main parties reflected this through meaningful long term funding of at least £10 per head per year."
Cycling England did not cost £63m to run – it had an operational budget of less than £200,000 per year and, via experts, advised the Department for Transport on how to spend its cycling budget.
The DfT allocated £63m to the 18 Cycling Towns in 2010/11 but the DfT was invoiced directly by the local authorities involved. In an answer to a parliamentary question by Baroness Seccombe her fellow Tory peer Lord Deighton replied, inaccurately, "the annual budget provided by the Department for Transport to Cycling England in 2010-11 was £63 million."
Cycling England was earmarked for abolition in the "bonfire of the quangos" in October 2010 as part of the coalition government’s comprehensive spending review. In a final message before the body ceased to exist in April 2011, Cycling England’s chair Phillip Darnton said: "Sadly cycling still seems to be a party political football to be played with according to fashionable ideology or dogma."
He added: "Unfortunately, Government has yet to appreciate [the] key lessons of consistency, continuity and the need for a long term strategy for an integrated transport policy for Britain.
"We know that investment in cycling works; it brings results; it makes a difference to everyone’s life. It’s worth it."