Campaigners 'despondent' at the damage they say the decision will do to cycling provision around the country
The rumours that Cycling England would be amongst the logs on the government's "bonfire of the quangos" were confirmed last week with the release of the long-awaited (and dreaded) list from the Cabinet Office.
Next to the cycling quango were the fateful words:
No longer an NDPB [Non-Departmental Public Body] - Abolish body. We have announced a Local Sustainable Travel Fund and will explore ways of marshalling expert input on cycling issues, including to support the Fund
As quangos go, Cycling England is not exactly profligate. It has three permanent staff and overheads of £200,000 - a tiny fraction of its annual budget of £60m. Over three years it has spent £140m.
Malcolm Shepherd, the chief executive of Sustrans, a charity that promotes sustainable transport said the quango has done valuable work. "Cycling England has been a crucial conduit for funding which has touched the lives of millions of people by making it possible for people to cycle for everyday journeys."
He and others are worried that the Local Sustainable Travel Fund will not have the same focus. The government has not yet decided how much money will be in the fund and what restrictions will be put on how it can be spent.
"The new Local Sustainable Transport Fund must not be a smokescreen for wider cuts to the spending that gets people cycling, walking and using public transport," Shepherd added.
Explaining the new fund, the transport minister Norman Baker MP who has responsibility for cycling said:
"We want to give more power and more flexibility to local authorities as we strongly believe that they know best what is right for their communities."
"As there will no longer be a dedicated cycling pot of money, but instead a much broader fund, we feel that Cycling England is not the right way to continue to incentivise and encourage local authorities and others to stimulate cycling."
So what is at stake? The money dished out by Cycling England fits into 3 broad categories. Around a third goes to the cycling towns and cities programme - which has provided funding for local cycling provision in places across the country from Aylesbury to Morecambe.
Around a third went to funding Bikability - a scheme for teaching safe on-road cycling that is the successor to the old cycling proficiency test. It trained 300,000 children last year. According to the Department for Transport, responsibility for the programme will now move back to Whitehall.
Kevin Mayne at the cycling organisation CTC, who is on Cycling England's board said that would be a disaster. "Bikability is a scheme that works on a 'Big Society' basis. Whenever it has been managed [outside government] it has moved forward. When it has been managed by DfT it has stood still...We can be more flexible, we don't have to seek ministerial approval for everything and we have low overheads."
The third tranche of funding is a mish-mash of smaller programmes and nascent schemes that were being worked up for national implementation. Bike 'n' Rail, for example, is a scheme to improve bike facilities for rail passengers. The danger, says Mayne is that schemes such as this will be lost. In the process around £20m of funding for the voluntary sector is at risk.
"It doesn't matter what label to put on it. It matters where the money goes," said Mayne, "At the moment one can't help but be pretty despondent. But ministers still have a chance, if you like, not to wreck this."
Courtesy of the Guardian Newspaper