Cycling England on list of quangos to be abolished

The list of quangos to be abolished, leaked to the Daily Telegraph today presumably by a government source, includes Cycling England, the body on whose board I sit. The open letter I wrote in Transport Times, which I have just posted on this site, seems to have failed. 

From what I gather, though, there may be battles behind the scenes to save Cycling England.  It would, indeed, be daft to abolish it. The government wants to be seen as green, and Cycling England has been a very efficient way of delivering ways of boosting cycling – and I am not just saying that because I am on the board.  The facts speak for themselves. Cycling England, with a staff of just three, plus a very active chairman, has managed to deliver a £6Om programme efficiently and effectively.

It is, indeed, a model of Cameron’s Big Society. The work has drawn in lots of volunteers – the board, for example, who do not get paid, apart from a small sum for chairman, but more important hundreds of people up and down the country helping kids and adults to learn to ride. Through the demonstration towns scheme, it has shown that it is possible to boost cycling levels considerably with relatively small sums of money. All in all, it is a win-win situation and yet through ideology and crass stupidity the government wants to abolish it in favour of various nebulous initiatives to help cycling.

Norman Baker is in a difficult position, but this one is really worth fighting for. If he really wants the government to have any credibility on the issue of cycling, he should make a last ditch attempt to save Cycling England. Its not the money so much as the fact that civil servants would not be able to deliver the programmes such as Bikeability with the same efficiency and effectiveness, and most of it will simply not happen.

  • Dan

    I see the Railway Heritage Committee are on the list (along with quite a few other heritage bodies) yet they do valuable work to select items for the national collection as I see it – surely this task would then end up being done by other people – probably in an ad hoc manner that would not necesarily ensure a coherent collection.

    Just like cycling England this can’t cost much and must be doen by people in a voluntary capacity anyway – but the powers they have to nominate items to prevent them being scrapped is what I wouild see as the important part – and presumably those powers would be lost – just like the important work Cycling England does.

    At least it looks like the British Railways Board will still be with us….

  • Derek L

    A commentator on R4 “PM” programme this evening said that of the 800 or so of these bodies, only about 15 spend 80% of the money involved, suggesting that many are not very expensive and abolishing them will not save much. Cycling England sounds like one of those that don’t cost much.

    I note that its functions are to be transferred elsewhere (so who is to pay for those?)

    Interesting in that context to see that the list and comments seem to pay no attention to the actual savings to be made from abolition, suggesting to me that the object is to reduce government rather than effecting significant savings.

    BRB (Residuary) is to be retained, as Dan notes. Although it only has 30 staff (I gather) it has responsibility for meeting claims against the old BR and maintaining still existing BR property, so is essentially a spending body, and possibly one of the big spenders. I can’t see how it could be abolished, although the functions could, I suppose, be taken over by the DfT, but that would achieve little, since the jobs would still have to be done, and the money paid out.

    An observation which may well apply to those abolitions which envisage functions transferred elsewhere.

    I see the H&SE is on “still to be decided”, as is the UK Supreme Court, the latter appearing decidedly odd.

    Nice seeing a document stamped “Restricted” freely available, though.

  • Matt

    Through the demonstration towns scheme, it has shown that it is possible to boost cycling levels considerably with relatively small sums of money.

    Hmmmm I wonder…

    The issue here is how much cycling activity is actually new, and how much would have occurred anyway. A couple of examples (apologies if this is not Cycle England)

    The last Friday of every month in Woking town centre, free breakfast rolls were given to people cycling to work. I don’t cycle, I walk, but I was tempted to get on my bike to claim my free sarny

    And the C ycle to work scheme – tax deductable bikes from Halfords. I was tempted to get one (although I wouldn’t have used it to get to work) but didn’t

    A better way to encourage cycle would be to change the law in their favour, by making any crash with a car the motorists fault, unless proven otherwise. To use modern parlance, that would ‘nudge’ behaviour in the right direction.

  • Matt You are being far too cynical. And you are actually wrong. The results of independent research into the first six cycling demonstration towns show unequivocally that investment at European levels pays off.The increase in cycling in the three year period averaged 27 per cent across the towns, proving that the modal mix can be changed by the right policies and a bit of money. See http://www.dft.gov.uk/cyclingengland/cycling-cities-towns/results/

  • Matt

    “The results of independent research into the first six cycling demonstration towns show unequivocally that investment at European levels pays off.The increase in cycling in the three year period averaged 27 per cent across the towns, proving that the modal mix can be changed by the right policies and a bit of money”

    OK lets break this down. The research wasn’t ‘independent’, it was commissioned by the DfT (http://www.dft.gov.uk/cyclingengland/site/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/analysis-and-synthesis-report.pdf). It is thus subject to confirmation bias.

    The research itself was subject to selection bias, in that they chose the best candidates, i.e. those most likely to promote cycling anyway (p3).

    The authors admit on page 5 they can’t attribute a link between increase in cycling and the interventions made

    And the way they have compared the cycling to non cycling towns is questionable, through phone surveys. Has there really been no increase in other places, such as London? Not from what I have seen.

    Your hypothesis (that CE interventions increase cycling) may well be correct. But this research doesn’t ‘prove’ this, as its authors admit.

  • Chris

    “A better way to encourage cycle would be to change the law in their favour, by making any crash with a car the motorists fault, unless proven otherwise. To use modern parlance, that would ‘nudge’ behaviour in the right direction.”

    Although I thoroughly approve of what you suggest, it certainly isn’t ‘nudge’ theory. In fact ‘nudge’ is all about behaviour change of the sort that Woking is doing (which I have no doubt comes directly from the CE money). Giving cyclists a breakfast once a month is classic nudge. Strengthening civil law in favour of one party isn’t.

    And anyway, your suggestion sounds great but politically it is impossible with our great motor-pacifist Hammond and his pals. It would be even better simply to take the view that every vehicle user that hits a cyclist (or pedestrian) automatically loses his or her licence for an extended period.

  • Dan

    Derek makes a valid point – for most of the Quangos the task still has to be done if they have vital functions – so abolishing them is simply to allow Ministers to say (pretend?) they have cut quangos, and ‘delivered the responsibilities to local people’ when in fact they will either have to centralise the work (eg into a Ministry) or say it is ‘now up to local councils’ if they want to for example promote cycling, but sorry – due to tight financial constraints there is not any money to give them to do it.

    BTW – cyclists brekkies seem to get lots of local press coverage in my town – which raises the profile of the cycling work being done – this will cost far less than actually buying advert space in the press for the cycling promotion being done. So it’s a good value ‘stunt’. Such profile raising got my partners (who had never learned to cycle) to learn about cycling lessons run and funded (I think) by the local health partnership – so she now knows how to cycle and does so. What can look like a waste to someone – can work well for other objectives.

  • W J Hall

    If Cycling England is any way responsible for the decision to give Bristol 11 or 22 million (no one has ever worked out which is the real number) as the first ‘Cycling City’ despite the lack of any plan to use it, or even any mechanism for preparing a plan, and in the face of Bristol City Council’s repeated demonstration of its inability to manage anything at all, then Cycling England deserves to be removed.

    W. J. Hall

  • Yes, Cycling England did give this money – although there was a lot of debate as to what city should get it. After a slow start, Bristol does have a coherent plan to spend the money and when we visited in June to look at the schemes, the results were on the whole very commendable. Yes, of course such programmes are fraught with difficulties and obstacles, but we found a real driving force within the council, and a lot of voluntary effort outside. But if you want to be cynical, that is up to you.

  • RapidAssistant

    Off topic – but more an observation – the general stigma that’s built up around quangos, yet some of the oldest institutions in the country were quangos long before the term came into popular parlance. Here’s my pick (all from direct.gov’s A-Z listing of government agencies…)

    – the DVLA? (no-one ever talks about reforming this one, or says its costing too much money – maybe because it brings in far too much money – £20 in administration charges to remove an endorsement from your driving licence yet an address change is free?? – I could never work that one out personally….)

    – the Met Office (given the unreliability of a lot of the long range forecasts in recent years, surely there are some efficiency gains here……)

    – the National Audit Office (hilarious that there is a quango to measure how much the quangos are spending)

    – the Olympic Delivery Authority (enough said…..)

    But seriously – looking at the list, just the titles suggest there are a lot that could be easily merged together, although there will be reasons why you can’t.

    Parting comment – British Rail was effectively a quango – yet most people look at it through rose tinted spectacles these days…….

  • W J Hall

    @Christian Wolmar:

    Cynicism is the natural entitlement of Bristol residents, and tends to be enhanced by contact with cycling or public transport issues, or realistically any issue involving the City Council. I am sure there is a book to be written on the cycling city story, but lack your literary skills, so as a sample of local thinking, two and a half years into the three year cycling city programme, here is a longstanding, very active, expert and respected local cycling campaigner, who has chosen to head his message:

    ” Not a good start” is an understatement.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Bristolcyclingcampaign/message/4368

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