Bikeability, Cycling England's flagship cycling proficiency scheme, is facing an uncertain future with the Government stepping up its efforts to make heavy cuts to public spending.
The Department for Transport, which supports and funds Cycling England, is reportedly in for particularly severe pruning. “We are hearing rumours that (Cycling England) will not survive the bonfire of the quangos,” said Peter Lipman, policy director of Sustrans, a charity which promotes walking and cycling.
“Our concern is what that would mean for the (Bikeability) test. If Cycling England goes, who would set the standards and run the programme? “
A Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents spokesperson said, “Cycle training is very important and cyclists are among the most vulnerable road users. While we recognise in the current economic climate nothing can be ring fenced, not even road safety, we do want to encourage people to cycle.”
Cycling England, established in 2005, say that cycling levels in the first six “demonstration” towns where they had been investing rose by an average of 27% over the first three years of the programme and cycling to school more than doubled where towns invested most in children. As for Bikeability training, they expect that by 2012, half a million children will have taken part.
Other evidence that investment increases cycling levels may be the 400,000 people who have taken advantage of the Cycle To Work scheme, where people hire a bicycle from their employer as a tax-free benefit and can have the option of purchasing the bike at the end of the hire period.
The money put into the first Cycling Demonstration Towns was about £5 per head, £10 when matched locally, reportedly much more consistent with European levels and in sharp contrast to the usual £1 or less. Writing earlier this year, Christian Wolmar, a Cycling England board member and leading transport commentator, said, “The crucial point is this: the European cities where cycling is the norm rather than the exception did not get like that by accident or because of their cultural inheritance. They got there because of long-term pro-cycling measures which have become universally popular. It’s time to make a start here.”
The overall amount of tax money spent on cycling is tiny – it was estimated at 0.01% (or one ten thousandth) of the overall annual tax take and 0.3% of the transport budget in 2005-6, and that percentage seems highly unlikely to have increased significantly since then.
A Department for Transport spokesman said, “The Cabinet Office is reviewing all arms-length bodies and an announcement will be made in due course.”