One week before the Comprehensive Spending Review watch out for soapy babies. A lot of them will be thrown out with bathwaters in what is billed as the ‘bonfire of the quangos’. Cycling-related bodies facing the chop, apart from Cycling England, include British Waterways and the Commission for Integrated Transport. Even the Forestry Commission is at risk.
The Daily Telegraph claims to have seen a list of at-risk quangos. According to the Tory newspaper, Cycling England is on a list of 177 quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations which will be definitely scrapped.
UPDATE: The BBC has obtained the leaked Cabinet Officer letter in question. It’s in PDF form here. The letter says Cycling England is to be abolished but “transfer of functions to be confirmed.” In theory, this could mean some of the (few) staff employed by Cycling England could be absorbed by the Department for Transport.
The Forestry Commission is on a 94-strong list of public bodies “still under review” by the Coalition Government.
Whitehall insiders predict that the slash-and-burn policies will play well to those who wish for less state control but many of the functions currently carried out by quangos will not be replicated by central Government and will be too national in scope to be handled by local authorities. Once the experts on bodies such as Cycling England move on to other contracts, their skills and know-how will have to replaced, and this replication will likely cost much more to implement than simply keeping key quangos in the first place.
CTC is worried that the loss of Cycling England could put Bikeability at risk, too.
CTC Chief Executive Kevin Mayne, who also sits on the Cycling England board, said:
“Details are only emerging slowly, but there is real concern for the future of cycle training funding. It is likely that cycle training schemes will have to compete with other local sustainable transport initiatives such as walking and public transport, as there will no longer be a ring-fenced central pot.”
By local sustainable transport initiatives, Mayne meant the Government’s announcement earlier this week of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.
Sustrans is being positive about the new fund but is also worried it could be a smokescreen for wider cuts. Sustrans hopes the fund will incentivise local transport authorities to prioritise funding for sustainable transport schemes that enable more local journeys to be made on foot, bike and public transport in their Local Transport Plans.
Peter Lipman, Sustrans’ Policy Director, said:
“The new fund must not be a smokescreen for wider cuts to sustainable transport investment. Given the current funding constraints government now has a historic opportunity to deliver smarter travel choices to millions of people. Local authorities need to focus investment in low cost sustainable transport solutions that have proven health, environmental and economic benefits.
“We read continued reports of the potential disbanding of Cycling England and wait for details of the transfer of its functions. We believe the new fund should be designed to ensure that the benefits of Cycling England’s successful work are not lost.”
Earlier this month, transport journalist and Cycling England board member Christian Wolmar wrote a scathing open letter to Norman Baker, the minister responsible for cycling, urging him to save Cycling England. Cambridge Cycling Campaing created a website of the same name. And, today, Colchester Cycling Campaign has pitched in.
Will Bramhill, chairman of the Colchester Cycling Campaign, said:
“Without the funding that Colchester receives via Cycling England – which is carefully spent, and the results monitored – fewer people would be cycling, less safely, less often. In short, Cycling England works well and gives good value.
“The Cycling England money has put some towns in England on a par with the Netherlands on spending on cycling – for the first time. However, the Dutch expenditure has been nationwide and sustained over decades, helping them to maintain high levels of cycling. England is only just beginning to address a situation caused by 50 years of chronic neglect, caused in part by successive governments cow-towing to the motor lobby and spending accordingly.
“The team at Cycling England now has massive experience in their roles. Breaking up this group when it is working so well would be a tragedy.”
Babies. Bathwater. Bike funding. All at risk of going down the plughole.