As we predicted last month, the Cabinet Office has decided to abolish Cycling England – the non-governmental body that advises and administers funding for cycling – as part of the coalition government’s so-called ‘bonfire of the quangos’.
National cyclists’ organisation CTC say they are “acutely concerned” because there’s no clear plan for the funding of cycling projects in future. They fear £20 million pledged for Bikeability cycling proficiency training, the Cycling Towns programme, workplace cycling schemes, cycle-rail projects and efforts to promote cycling could be lost.
Phillip Darnton, chairman of Cycling England, described the move as “bitterly disappointing” and said he was particularly worried about Bikeability, which currently receives £12m a year and trains over 300,000 schoolchildren annually. The Department for Transport has indicated that it will maintain the scheme, with Transport Minister Norman Baker declaring that “Bikeability is safe”, but no details of future funding arrangements have been given.
On Cycling England’s website, Mr Darnton said: “Neither the Minister nor DfT officials will discuss either the level of funding or the scale of their future intentions for cycle training… Discontinued funding would mean a new generation lost to cycling, and a risk of increased accidents through lack of proper instruction. This prospect is alarming in its implications for childhood obesity and the environmental impact of a further increase in car trips to school.”
Officials have, however, announced the creation of a Local Sustainable Travel Fund and say they “will explore ways of marshalling expert input on cycling issues”. Not everyone sees the axing of Cycling England as a bad thing, including David Wild, CEO of Halfords, the chain that sells one-third of all new bikes bought in Britain.
In a statement, Mr Wild said: “Cycling England has made a positive contribution to cycling in this country. Moving forward, Halfords believes the creation of a new Local Sustainability Travel Fund will enable more locally integrated cycling planning and promotion. The Fund shows that the Government is committed to improving local conditions for cycling and the cycling environment.”
However, Cycling England board member Lynn Sloman disagreed, saying: “If the Government is to build on the last five years’ progress in getting more people cycling, it’ll need to do more than simply allocate grants. Cycling England’s experience is that in order to get results, you need to cut through the red tape, and really support, engage, enthuse and challenge… We appeal to the Government to recognise this challenge.”
The axing of Cycling England, along with 191 other public bodies, was announced yesterday as part of a “reform” of the quango system. Supporters of the quango point to a 27 percent increase in cycling trips in three years in its Cycling Demonstration Towns and a 174 percent increase in trips to school by bike where school cycling programmes are in place.
CTC chief executive and Cycling England board member Kevin Mayne said: “At a time when the Government is asking for programmes that use ‘Big Society’ approaches to cut the deficit and promote economic recovery, it’s crazy to put all of Cycling England’s programmes in jeopardy. These cycling projects demonstrate how the public, private and voluntary sectors can work together to achieve results and amazing value for money.”