Here’s Patrick Barker’s speech:
A year ago we saw exciting and stimulating presentations from organisations like Sustrans and British Cycling. Presentations that illustrated the kind of work that many different organisations and individuals are doing year after year to promote cycling, work that ultimately will lead to a larger UK cycling market.
At the time there was widespread support for the idea that our industry needs to invest in our own future, and that by working co-operatively we could do so on a scale far greater than anything we have seen before. It is with great regret that I must report that we still have not been able to clear the first hurdle, which is that while many companies indicated unqualified support from the outset, others have indicated that they would only support a bicycle promotion fund if the vast majority of UK suppliers were participating. Unfortunately there is a significant minority who have not been persuaded of the benefits. Although we may not be able to persuade the whole industry to co-operate, I am still totally convinced that we have a great opportunity to generate very significant investment in the future of our industry at very small cost to ourselves. But no matter how small the amount, without the funds there is very little we can do. Phillip Darnton has been doing important work in trying to persuade the NCS board that it needs to incorporate cycle promotion in its work. I am sure the logic of his argument will be very persuasive, but how much more persuasive could we be if we were able to show that we the beneficiaries were willing to back it with even a small contribution. National Bike Week may or may not be a well executed promotion. But it is without doubt the biggest cycle promotion event in the UK. As an industry we have been able to contribute a grand total of £2,000 to support the £70,000 being contributed by central government. Whether it is for this or any other project we cannot rely on unlimited outside funding unless we are able to do more, and to do it more often. And of course, there are much bigger projects, with much bigger targets – like the Sustrans School champions project to increase the number of kids who cycle to school from 100,000 to 1,000,000. In the next few days you will receive a request for a formal commitment. I remain optimistic that many of you will be able to respond positively.
More than ever, our industry needs a positive stimulus. Although raw import and export statistics suggest that volumes of bicycle units have been stable over the past several years, these statistics are very raw indeed! It is a continuing frustration that as a trade association we do not have the resources to collect and analyse useful real time statistics. However, with or without statistics, there are a couple of key trends which are clearly established. The first is that average prices continue to fall for bicycles as well as parts and accessories. There has been very little product innovation to stimulate demand, and little or no effort to adapt to changing demographics. Our market is shrinking, but there is no evidence that capacity has reduced. And even if anti-dumping duties for Chinese imports to Europe are renewed, the level of duty imposed on these imports is not sufficient to protect us from further price and margin erosion. At the same time we are seeing major changes to the structure of our domestic market. In the absence of innovation power is shifting from brands and manufacturers to major multiples that are able to dictate terms to their suppliers. To some extent the UK market has been sheltered from even more extreme price pressures seen in other markets where supermarket chains have used the bicycle as a promotional tool rather than a product sold for profit. However we are now seeing an increase in this type of activity in the UK The world is shrinking and our market is changing at a bewildering pace. More than ever we need to keep up with changes – and more than ever we need a trade association that can collect and disseminate information as well as providing a forum for exchanges of opinion and subjective assessments. Once again, we depend on each other. We don’t have the resources to invest in external collection of statistics but we are exploring ways of doing it at a basic level for ourselves at virtually no cost beyond the time and effort it takes for each member to submit a return. The bicycle industry is not unique. Every industry finds itself competing in a shrinking world. And every industry is to some extent competing with other industries.
The UK bicycle industry is fortunate in being able to count on the services of CPAG, the Cyclist Public Affairs Group that promotes cycling to central government. CPAG is particularly focussed on transport issues and over the past decade has played an important role in helping to keep the bicycle on the agenda of transport ministers and officials. Transport issues are becoming increasingly important, and increasingly difficult to resolve. Cycling is low tech and cheap compared to the costs of investment in high profile projects like motorways and railways, and this can work against us – we cannot afford to be complacent about our place in the transport debate. CPAG have identified their priorities for the run up to the next election as • Winning increased and continued support for cycling from ministers & officials in DfT
• Doing more to bring other Government Departments into working together on cycling
• Making sure that cycling is high up the agenda as we go into the next general election The Bicycle Association cooperates with other organisations including CTC, Sustrans and British Cycling to fund the work of CPAG. We get remarkable value for the limited investment we are able to make, but the amount we do invest is dwarfed by other industries such as the Motorcycle industry. Cycling is on the transport agenda. It should have at least the same prominence in health, sport, education, environment and others. The bicycle has an appeal that’s hard to beat but as an association we do not have the resources to make the most of our advantages. All our funding comes either from subscriptions or the small profit we can make on trade shows. I am therefore delighted that we have been able to make some progress in resolving the conflicts that will always surround trade shows. For 2003 our ability to find the work of CPAG at all depends entirely on the profits we make from the Spring and Autumn trade events. I will restrict myself to re-stating BA policy that we believe all profits from trade shows should be re-invested in promoting our industry, and that we should not support any event that diminishes the profitability of BA sponsored shows. Members who read their BA post will be aware that our industry is increasingly affected by consumer legislation and directives, not just from the UK but also European initiatives. These present opportunities as well as threats and it is important that we keep abreast of these developments. The BA is fortunate in being able to call on the services of Alan Cater to represent our interests in the development of the new CEN standards for ATB, Race and ‘Common’ bicycles. We expect that drafts will be issued for public comment later this year and that the new standards will be published towards the end of 2004. These standards are likely to demand significantly higher levels of testing. We are currently in the early stages of discussion with LACORS (the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) which will give the BA a central role in agreeing a common understanding of how to interpret and police these new standards. We are also actively pursuing the appointment of a test house to provide technical testing services for BA members at a preferential rate. As most of you will know, Alan now offers a technical advice service for all members and if you need to contact him about any specific issue please do not hesitate to contact him via the BA secretariat. Alan is here today and I am sure you will all join with me in thanking him for his efforts. I should also take this opportunity to thank Mel Payne and Pat Morris for the work they do in keeping the association running. I have been associated with the BA in one way or another for many years. A trade association exists to provide services for members that they could not cost effectively provide for themselves. Wherever co-operation is more effective than competition, wherever there is the potential for an industry to work together for mutual benefit, there is an argument for the existence of a trade association. In all the years I have been involved in the UK bike industry I have never known a time when we needed a trade association more than we need one now. There is no doubt that the structure of our industry is changing, and that our association will need to adapt to new conditions. We have started to work more closely with other cycling organisations but there is still much to be done to overcome the overlap, duplication and unnecessary competition for scarce resources. As an industry, we need to find a way to communicate and co-operate better across all sectors, from manufacture or importer to independent retailers and large multiples. The challenges are great, but so are the opportunities. Despite all his experience, Phillip Darnton has the advantage of having been associated with our industry for a relatively short time, which gives him the perfect combination of wisdom and enthusiasm. I am sure he will make an excellent President and I wish him every success.
I have enjoyed the challenges of the past wo years – I am sure Phillip will enjoy the challenges to come.