So Long, And Thanks For All The Pish


Flipper: Charming, funny, been dead for decades and still more familiar to the public than Cycling England

Last Friday, reported that Cycling England now looks certain to be abolished as part of a Government cull on quangos (or ‘quasi autonomous non-governmental organisations’ to give them their full snappy title).

Christian Wolmar, writer, broadcaster and member of the board of Cycling England anticipated this by writing a very strong open letter to Norman Baker, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport outlining why he thinks this is a very bad idea. He outlined the fact that Cycling England runs cycling proficiency in schools and various projects across the country on a pathetically small budget annual budget of £60m (other transport modes get £15.36bn) and a lot of help of volunteers. All strong stuff but I bet Norman Baker MP thought exactly the same thing as I did;

Christian Wolmar is part of Cycling England??!! 

I’d imagine that hardly anyone outside the cycling World knows that Cycling England even exists and cares even less what it stands for. Cycling England, like CTC are great for the already converted but utterly crap at projecting out to the non-cycling  public who couldn’t give a hoot what a Cycling Demonstration Town is, or indeed how cycling would benefit them.

Cycling England was never going to set the World alight on a meagre budget of £60m per annum (Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert cost £4.5m alone for perspective). Above all, if Cycling England is a Quango then its foundations were always going to be shaky. Despite having origins far earlier, Quangos will be seen as a Blairite Government mechanism and detested by the public at the best of times (despite many of them doing deeds very much to the public good).  The point of this post is that I believe there must be wholesale reform of the Department for Transport with sustainable transport modes not only being brought ‘in house’ but also receiving a far more integrated share of the transport spend.

Cambridge Cycle Campaign has set up a website ( to bring attention to Cycling England’s good works and to appeal against its abolition. Listed below are the key points:

  • Bikeability: …. the nationwide cycle training scheme, teaching children (benefiting around 300,000 per year) and adults to cycle safely and responsibly, at a time when there is an enormous need to encourage healthy lifestyles, promote safe use of roads, and give children freedom;
  • Cycling Demonstration Towns: Enabling over 2.5m people in 18 towns around the country to benefit from considerably increased levels of infrastructure funding to make roads safer and cycle-friendly, to get more people on their bikes;
  • Health-related projects to promote cycling as a means of addressing the obesity epidemic and tackling sedentary lifestyles;
  • Professional support for Local Authorities to ensure that practitioners on-the-ground get cycling right;
  • Creating design standards and guidance available to highway engineers;
  • Railway/cycling integration, getting train companies to take cycling seriously
  • Events and projects all around the country (including Bike Week), ranging from education initiatives, promoting cycling to minority groups, travel planning for businesses and much more.

All fairly good points until you realise that cycling as an overall transport mode still languishes in its single figure percentage glory. I would like to tentatively make the following points;

  • A personal preference this, but return the name ‘Bikeability’ back to ‘Cycling Proficiency’ so the public instantly knows what it is. This is, after all, a country that still thinks ‘Road Tax’ exists and I’ve never heard cycle training referred to by the general public as ‘Bikeability’. Also, if it can be claimed that ‘Bikeability’ brings cycle training up to the 21st century, how about the DfT giving new cyclists safer, 21st century roads or decent segregated cycle infrastructure based on a Dutch model to cycle on? Otherwise parents will never let children out on their bikes and gain some freedom, fitness and fresh air as it continues to be perceived as a dangerous activity.
  • Drop the Cycling Demonstration Town nonsense in favour of national policy. Otherwise the money will continue to be swallowed up by Councils desperate to plug other holes in their budgets or ‘Consultancy Fees’.  If Brighton & Hove is a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’, then Milton Keynes is an ‘Architectural Treasure Trove’.
  • There must be proper design guidance on cycling infrastructure based on more robust models (such as the Netherlands). This is not a push to create a fully segregated cycle network but where Cycling Infrastructure is installed it has to meet minimum criteria, that is way and above the dangerous and appalling standards we have currently. Above all the Department for Transport has to integrate sustainable transport into its remit and stop using car-centric policies, particularly for urban areas (for example, favouring blanket 20mph speed limits across residential areas thereby linking the generally ignored School Zones with the streets that children are going to be walking and cycling in from).
  • There needs to be far better promotion of the benefits of walking and cycling. This should be coordinated better with other Government Departments such as the Department for Health – instead of health professionals banging on about things they don’t know, such as the misguided belief that sticking helmets on people will solve everything, they can bang on about things that they do know, such as cycling being a healthy activity.
  • I thought railway/cycle integration meant being able to take a bicycle on a train to allow passengers (sorry, customers) to get to their destination door to door with minimum fuss – One transport mode complimenting another to increase scope and versatility. The railway companies however believe that putting up cycle racks at stations is the only answer and gets them off the hook, whilst praying that everyone buys a Brompton. Rail companies will never take cycling seriously until it becomes a condition of the franchise or is legislated.
  • I believe that every time Philip Hammond releases a report or statement, it must be called ‘The Hammond Organ’.

We needn’t push for the last one.

In summary, I don’t doubt at all the fantastic abilities and knowledge of Christian Wolmar, or indeed Phillip Darnton, the very amiable Chairman of Cycling England. I just think its time for cycling to stop being treated at arms length by a Government Department that hasn’t a clue what sustainable transport or road safety is yet is in its best interests to do so if it’s to achieve anything close to integration. The good folk of Cycling England and all cyclists across England and the rest of the British Isles deserve far better than the current structure.

14 thoughts on “So Long, And Thanks For All The Pish”

  1. There’s food for thought indeed here, and I broadly support many of your ideas. I think the ‘save cycling england’ camp however is more about defending any cuts to cycling at all… It will certainly make for an interesting fight and I’ll be interested to see what CE is replaced with, if anything.

    Great blog – have added you to my blog roll over at ibikelondon

    1. Thanks for the kind comment. I realise what the motive is for saving Cycling England and I readily admit I don’t have a full solution should it go. I do believe however that we are selling ourselves too short – Cycling is after all part of the solution, not the problem. We should be pushing to be taken far more seriously at Governmental level, otherwise they are basically dropping a major, cheap, clean form of sustainable transport which in this day and age is ridiculous. We deserve better than Cycling England – It’s one of those wierd occasions where I’m against an organisation but support wholeheartedly the people in it!

      Your blog is very good too!

  2. Thanks for this. Food for thought, indeed. Certainly agree with all of what you say here. The big issue is how we get cycling taken seriously in the DfT, and indeed, the not-very-open-minded British Public. I don’t know. Perhaps Cycling England is a starting point. Somewhere to focus.

  3. Good arguments. Broadly agree.

    I think there is a general assumption that when the quangos get scrapped many of their actvities will be swept back into core depts eg transport.

    I think the onus is on the CTC and Cambridge cycling campaign to embrace the change, and to aim for 2 things:
    1) The valued functions of cycling england transition to the dft.
    2) Sieze the opportunity to press for the dft to transiotion from being the ministry for cars to being a dept for transport.

  4. Excellent post. We definitely need national standards and national application. The CTC seems to lurch from local scheme to local scheme.
    Have you noticed that ‘cycle and trains’ leaflets are sponsored by Brompton and say that folding bikes should have wheels of less than 20″s?

  5. Food for thought indeed.

    [And thanks for the mention of]

    Cycling England may have had flaws but it was the only org able to fight cycling’s corner in Whitehall. Now there will be no voice whatsoever.

    Cycling England did a lot of behind the scenes work. It was never meant to be a public-facing organisation. Heck, it only has three staff and has never had offices.

    The £60m distributed by Cycling England went to lots of different projects, all of which raised levels of cycling. For people to have seen the real benefit, it would need another 10-20 years of funding of such orgs.

    Scrapping it now is such a waste.

    We need an awful lot of money spent on cycling in the UK and Cycling England was and is the only independent conduit for this.

    The Local Sustainable Transport Fund is multi-modal – a good thing – but cycling will be pushed to the periphery. Again.

    Bad move by Hoverboard Hammond, but absolutely to be expected from such an ardent motorist. Norman ‘Spineless’ Baker, on the other hand, should hang his head in shame. He’s looked very sheepish at the last few events I’ve seen him at, and well he might.

    1. Thanks for the comments

      [And I wear my black jersey with pride on my commute although motorists tend to get a little bit too close to read it :-)]

      We can definately be agreed that Cycling England did good works. Miraculous you could say given the budget. However, I believe that the structure was always set up for a fall – It should come as no surprise that Cycling England is a Quango, yet the Highways Agency is ‘an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport’. EXECUTIVE no less!

      Our work as campaigners and lobbyists is just beginning as Hammond Organ and Spineless Norman seem hell bent on turning the sustainable clock back by decades. At least now know where we stand (or at least by the end of today and again on October 20th) and have two definate figures to focus all our attention on.

      Keep up the good work. I had a commute from hell this morning battling the school run but i just remember that cyclists and pedestrians are the freeholders (the lean, the green and Her Majesty the Queen as I like to call it). Motorists are just the sitting tenants.

  6. Speaking personally (as my colleagues probably won’t have seen this blog post yet):

    Some interesting points, though obviously I agree more with Carlton, especially on his fourth paragraph that Cycling England was designed as the intermediary body that basically spurred on the people actually doing the work – rather than being the promotional body itself.

    My personal view is that while the points in your blog post are good ones, the fact is we’re talking about a shift from a body that cares and really understands cycling, to basically cycling going back to being a minority (and probably unfunded) interest within a slimmed-down DfT civil service. It’s hard to see how the latter is going to get us anywhere near the Netherlands-style role that cycling should play under the circumstances we have now.

    1. Martin

      I delayed writing a response until the full idiocy of Quango Quashing was released.

      In a later post I argue that the Department for Transport is so car sick, the future looks bleak even if cycling were to be brought ‘in house’ receiving a far more deserving share of the transport spend (after all, cycling is the solution, not the problem).

      It turns out that the predicament is even worse – at least if it was brought into the DfT it could be fully accountable. Now cycling has been completely cast adrift in the ConDems ‘divide and conquer’ strategy (look what’s happening to the Office for Fair Trading). They hope that we will leave them alone to push through big infrastructure schemes whilst our attentions are diverted fighting for the local authority scraps that is the new ‘Local Sustainable Transport Fund’.

      I’m thinking aloud here but I say we take the fight direct to David Cameron and on into Europe. Maybe get Fietsberaad International to take over design guidance 🙂

      My point is we mustn’t be distracted by localism. We have to keep focussed now on Central Government. We’re the solution.

  7. Interesting reading and nice comment Carlton.

    Of course cycling should be mainstream and included in all Local Authorities plans but we have to remember that we are 30 years behind our friends on the continent. In an ideal world we would have jumped straight from busy urban roads to things like HomeZones and pleasant environments but in reality this takes time and requires a massive cultural shift. It also takes a generation of planners, engineers and politicians to retire!

    I declare an interest here. I have worked in one of the Cycling Towns and with Cycling England. The Demonstration Towns have been a success and anyone who scratches beneath the surface and reads the reports and makes an effort to really see what each set out to achieve would understand.

    With or without Cycling England all those involved or passionate about cycling now have a responsibility to lobby their own Local Authorities to ensure that cycling is fully integrated in to their future. Each Local Authority is currently producing a Local Transport Plan looking at the period from 2011-2026 to be published sometime in the next year. This is our chance with or without a body such as Cycling England to ensure cycling has a healthy future fully realising its potential across the UK.

    D Hedgehog

  8. Cycling: cast adrift. Cycling: fighting for scraps. Bit of a crap day, really.

    Normally I try to include the up-side potential of a negative story but somebody help me out here, I can’t think of any.

    Lots of quangos were kept, it wasn’t a bonfire at all. So, why kill Cycling England? So petty.

    1. Carlton

      Yes it was Petty but it’ll be fascinating to see what happens next. Everyone’s fired up now.

      Gandhi once said something along the lines of, ‘First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win’.

      I think we’ve reached the attacking stage!

      I’ve written my thoughts on the matter here.

      On 20th October, we really will know where we all stand.

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