Job losses at Sustrans expected as Gov't pulls plug on cycle funding

With cycling and walking likely to be starved of cash by the end of this month there are fears of job losses at Sustrans.
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With cycling and walking likely to be starved of cash by the end of this month there are fears of job losses at Sustrans.

Staff at Sustrans fear there will be “significant” job losses at the charity when chancellor George Osborne cuts funding for active travel at the end of the month. Osborne is expected to dramatically rein back on support for cycling and walking in the Comprehensive Spending Review, due on 25th November. For the past five years active travel modes in some cities have benefitted from projects supported by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. However, this fund ends in April 2016.

While roads minister Robert Goodwill has recently expressed his support for cycling his boss is much less of a fan. “Buses, bikes and boots” are expected to be losers in the CSR cuts that Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has already agreed to make. Long-distance infrastructure projects – such as the £15n road programme and the £50bn to be spent on HS2 – will be protected, it’s expected, but funding support for short-distance travel will be increasingly left up to local authorities, which are facing swinging government cuts of their own.

The Tory manifesto commitments to make cycling “safe” and to “double the number of [cycle] journeys by 2025" will not be met without funding support, say experts, but the fear is that funding will be almost wholly withdrawn.

It’s against this pessimistic background that Sustrans commissioned a management consultancy to look at the charity’s governance and how it can move forward in a scenario where it would have to survive on a reduced budget, much of it to date provided by local and national government. Sustrans employs 670 people around the UK. The 200 or so working in London are largely expected to remain untouched by any redundancies because Transport for London is forging ahead with big budget cycling projects. However, at the Sustrans HQ in Bristol, and in satellite offices in the rest of the UK, there’s widespread belief among staff that “significant” job cuts are on the way.

Earlier this year Sustrans appointed management consultancy Extended Mind of Hackney, London, to carry out an appraisal of the charity, focussing on its organisational structure. Two reports have been written and they are said to be critical of the way the charity is run. The earlier of the two reports concerned the way the Bristol HQ of Sustrans has been managed. The second and later report focusses on the workings of the charity elsewhere in the UK, but outside of London.

Sustrans’ chief executive Malcolm Shepherd is to retire early next year. The charity is soon to start a search for his successor.

Extended Mind is a small consultancy, co-founded by business consultant Tony Hall, author of management book “The Leadership Illusion” of 2010.

Extended Mind promises to help clients build “leadership skills” through psychology and neuroscience so they can deliver “lasting organisational change”. According to the Extended Mind website the company helps its clients “to understand the current state of collaboration within your organisation and with your external partners.” Previous clients include Vodafone, Channel 4 and the chemicals-to-healthcare company Akzo Nobel.

2015 is the 20th anniversary of the creation of Sustrans’ £42.5m National Cycle Network. Since 1995 Sustrans has grown and grown, and in some respects has operated as the sustainable transport wing of the Department for Transport.

Sustrans is one of the organisations pushing for the government to release its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, CWIS, known as “cee-whizz”. The strategy isn’t expected until summer 2016, some months after cash has dried up from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

Experts warn that the Tory belief in a “toxic mix” of “small stateism” and “big roadism” will lead to a number of years in which cycling and walking will be neglected by national government.

One expert told BikeBiz: “We have to prepare for the worst. There are no indications that active travel modes will get anything out of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The government believes major infrastructure projects will generate economic growth, and our arguments about health, the environment, the economic potential of cycling and how building more roads leads to more congestion have fallen on deaf ears.”

He added: “Patrick McLoughlin has persuaded himself that “further and faster” projects are the only transport interventions that can deliver economic growth so everything else can, and will, be ignored.”

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