Money for cycling and walking could be slashed at Halloween
‘Get ready to SCREAM’ is the marketing tag for various Halloween promotions and events, but this year it’s not ghouls and ghosts terrifying people, it’s the cost of living crisis and what might creep out from the Chancellor’s Halloween budget box.
On 31 October, The Chancellor will set out what’s variously been described as a fiscal, economic, or spending plan, or a budget review, but lets just stick with budget.
Cutting funding for cycling
Speculation about the fright night budget has focussed on concerns about heating bills, energy costs, inflation and interest rates, but many of us working to get more people walking and cycling are increasingly concerned that a nasty surprise is also lurking in the shadows, with the Chancellor about to make deep cuts to England’s cycling and walking budget.
I’m focussing on the England active travel budget because the Chancellor and the Department for Transport (DfT) have no control over spending on cycling and walking in Scotland and Wales where funding per head is already higher than in England. In Northern Ireland, the figure is currently lower, but there is a requirement under the Northern Ireland Climate Change Act to massively increase it.
But if you live in England, we need your help to make sure the Government doesn’t back-pedal on funding for cycling and walking.
Jamming the gears
Two years ago, the Government published Gear Change, setting out what it described as "a bold vision for cycling and walking".
Of course, the Prime Minister back then was Boris Johnson, who generally supported cycling and, under his watch, dedicated funding for active travel was increased significantly, with £2 billion committed over a five-year period, approximately £400 million per year.
That commitment was reaffirmed in Gear Change, but working out exactly how much might be made available for active travel is complex, because the funding comes from dedicated ring-fenced funds and potentially from other funding pots, which local authorities can bid for.
To cut a long story short, the Government tweaked the funding pots in the 2021 Autumn Statement, so some money from the original £2 billion dedicated fund was then moved into the City Regions Sustainable Travel Settlement, which should hopefully still be spent on active travel. This isn’t, however, technically ring-fenced or dedicated funding.
Confused? Well, in summary, we now have a second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS2) published in July this year, which commits the Government to a total £3.8 billion spending, ring-fenced and non-ringfenced, on active travel in the four years to 31 March 2025.
But the mood music now Mr Johnson is gone is all about economic growth.
The tragic irony is, of course, that few investments do more to put money back into the local and national economies, and quickly, than investment in active travel which makes sense as well as money.
It seems, however, that we still have work to do to get that message across to politicians – and you can help us by emailing your MP today.
But don’t we all need to make cuts?
I know that £3.8 billion over four years sounds like a lot of money, but it’s a fraction of the amount the Government commits to other forms of transport, despite the fact that when it comes to return on investment, it’s fantastic value for money
But we often hear that everyone, and every department will need to make cuts, and didn’t we get a big increase in funding under Boris?
Well, a large percentage increase on a miniscule budget doesn’t automatically make a large budget, just one that’s better than you had before, and that’s basically the line Cycling UK has taken over the last two years.
We praised the commitments in Gear Change, and welcomed the increased funding, but we have always made the point that the funding allocated wasn’t enough to enable the Government to meet its own modest targets to increase levels of cycling and walking, and that they should release the evidence and report which showed that.
The Government still hasn’t published that illusive report, but yesterday there was, at last, an admission from them that the current level of dedicated funding wasn't enough to achieve their targets.
How much is enough?
During transport oral questions yesterday, a question was put to Transport Minister Lucy Frazer MP, asking whether her department had made an assessment of the level of funding required to meet its cycling targets for 2025. The answer was a minimum of £4.4 billion.
So, £3.8 billion has been committed to 2025, but a minimum of £4.4 billion is needed, with some inescapable facts. Firstly, current funding isn’t enough to meet the Government’s own targets; secondly, it’s still less per head than in Scotland or Wales; and, thirdly, it’s peanuts when compared to other transport funding.
The conversation about funding for active travel in England should therefore be focussed on how and when the budget is increased, because there’s no spare to cut.
But fright night is looming instead. The nightmare scenario is that, just when it looked like it was safe to be positive about active travel’s future, with funding below what’s needed but heading in the right direction, the current administration might throw a spanner in the active travel wheels, jamming the gears rather than moving through them.
Email your MP
If you’re wondering how important this is during a cost of living crisis, my answer is that when people are struggling financially they need cheaper and more convenient transport choices. It makes financial, security and political sense that we’re less dependent on imported fuel, so investment to reduce car and fuel dependency should be a priority across government, as it has multiple cross-benefits.
And we keep hearing about growth, but you can have green growth, and it can be delivered quickly, because investment in active travel brings high and quick returns on investment, is good for business, grows the local and national economy, saves people money, and I haven’t even got to health, community and environmental benefits, which Cycling UK summarise in this report.
So, if you want to help us save the cycling and walking budget, please email your MP today.
We’ve made this really easy, through our online editable email action, and you can ask your MP to contact the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Transport to make sure the active travel budget isn’t cut.
Please help us by adding your voice to ours. We can’t just cross our fingers and hope for the best at Halloween, or we may have a nasty surprise, and screaming now might make the Chancellor look elsewhere!
EDIT (26/10/2022) - The fiscal plan will now take place on 17 November as part of the Full Autumn Statement. Cycling UK will be keeping open our email action until this time. Over 1000 supporters have written to their MP so far - let's see if we can double that before then!