How will the UK spending review affect cycling?

Olympic athletes safe, local schemes likely to suffer

With an apparently motorist-friendly minister, Norman Baker, now in charge of cycling, the Comprehensive Spending Review could have far-reaching consequences

Following the loss of Cycling England, it had been feared that the UK Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review would have dire consequences for cycling.

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However, it has emerged that funding for elite athletes is safe until after the 2012 Olympics, and London’s bike hire and Cycle Superhighways schemes will actually be expanded.

It’s not all good news though, as the slashing of local authority budgets will hit cycling projects in towns and cities across the country. At this stage, the full consequences of the cuts are unknown. Here’s a brief rundown of what we know so far:

Elite cycling

UK Sport, the agency which supports Britain’s Olympic athletes – including road and track cyclists, and cross-country mountain bike racers – has had its central funding for 2011-15 reduced by 28 percent in real terms, but much of the shortfall will be made up for by an increase in National Lottery cash.

Chief executive Liz Nicholl insisted the loss of government funding would “not have any significant impact on [UK Sport’s] goals”. Bosses are hoping to protect funding for athletes by slashing administration costs, with a tough target of a 50 percent reduction by 2015.

“This settlement represents a positive outcome in difficult times,” said Nicholl. “While tough, it recognises that the funding and support we give to Olympic and Paralympic sport is a crucial element of the nation’s London 2012 ambition… We believe we have the resources we need to fund athletes and support services through to 2012, should sports continue to justify that funding on performance grounds.”

The impact of the spending review will be felt after the Olympics, with a 15 percent reduction in funding in 2013 and 2014, although some savings will be made by integrating UK Sport with Sport England. UK Sport will spend £27 million on cycling in the run-up to the London Olympics.

British Cycling chief executive Ian Drake said: “We fully appreciate the current economic climate and the tough decisions that have to be made. In that context, the fact that both UK Sport and Sport England are able to commit to existing funding levels through to March 2013 is extremely welcome news.

“Vitally, this creates the stability we need to focus on the job in hand ahead of London 2012, both in terms of elite performances and the wider growth and development of our sport. It’s no surprise that the picture will change post-2012 and over the past 18 months we’ve already prepared for this by working hard to grow other revenue streams through membership and commercial partnerships, such as with our principal partner British Sky Broadcasting.”

Cycling as transport

Ministers have pledged to safeguard the Bikeability cycling proficiency scheme and have announced the creation of a Local Sustainable Travel Fund in place of Cycling England. While £560 million has been set aside for this fund, much of the cash is likely to be spent on bus, pedestrian and road safety schemes rather than cycling.

Motoring journalist Quentin Wilson has described the minister in charge of cycling, under secretary of state for transport Norman Baker, as “by far the most motorist-friendly transport minister I’ve come across”, which doesn’t bode well. There’s no word yet on the future of the Cycling City and Cycling Demonstration Towns project, for which funding runs out in March.

With the Department for Transport and local councils being asked to make massive cuts (21 and 28 percent of their respective budgets) over the next four years, spending on cycling promotion and infrastructure is bound to take a hit. Hartlepool has already abandoned a £200,000 cycle lane and signage project.

Peter Lipman, policy director for sustainable transport charity Sustrans, said: “Not surprisingly, the spending review of transport has given us few sustainable options to bite on, save some commitment to public transport. Roads dominate, which does not bode well for walking and cycling, but perhaps there’ll be better news when we get more details next week.

“Either way Sustrans believe that government transport strategies need to be far braver going forward if we’re to be serious about improving health and energy security, reducing carbon and fostering long-term economic prosperity. And of course living up to the coalition’s promise of being the greenest government ever.”

Cycling in London

London’s major cycling projects seem to have escaped the cuts. Mayor Boris Johnson has announced that the Barclay’s Cycle Hire scheme will be expanded eastwards to Docklands, and more docking stations and bikes will be provided in Zone 1. Waterloo station alone will get 350 ‘Boris bikes’.

The Cycle Superhighways project will also continue, with 12 radial commuter routes from the suburbs to central London due to be completed by 2015. Confirmation that these schemes will not be hit by the swingeing funding cuts has been welcomed by the London Cycling Campaign.

Chief executive Ashok Sinha said: “In recent months, LCC has made the case strongly that cycling programmes are fantastic value for money and that it makes no economic sense to cut them. Investment in cycling in the UK has been shown to give a return of £3 for every £1 spent, with much of this coming via crucial health benefits. Investing in London cycling is a cost-effective opportunity to relieve the pressure on the NHS and create a less congested, cleaner, happier and more mobile city.”

About the Comprehensive Spending Review

The UK’s public debt interest repayments now total £120 million a day. Chancellor George Osborne revealed in June how he planned to raise more money through taxes. The Comprehensive Spending Review announced yesterday aims to further cut costs by fixing spending budgets for each Government department up to 2014-15. 

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These cuts are likely to result in the loss of around 490,000 public sector jobs. Critics fear they’re so severe they’ll trigger a ‘double dip’ recession, and say taxes should be raised instead. You can read an outline of the cuts here.