Further torture from Treasury on Transport

Under Chancellor George Osborne cycling is likely to suffer. Photo: CC Number 10
As HM Treasury proudly announces that the Department for Transport has agreed to make cuts of more than 30% over the next four years, CTC campaigner Sam Jones wonders what this might mean for cycling.

I woke this morning to hear on the wireless that the Department for Transport (DfT) was one of four Government departments to agree to further cuts of more than 30 per cent over the next four years. The DfT joins the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Communities and Local Government and HM Treasury itself.

Whether you are for or against the Chancellor’s economic policy of austerity, news that the DfT has willingly subscribed to further cuts should be considered as very worrisome for cyclists. 

We’ve already seen The Times report that “cycling is likely to lose out to road building and rail upgrade projects” at the end of October. While there has been outcry from the cycle lobby and supporting MPs such as in the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, it does appear that cycling will suffer at the expense of increased road expenditure come the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 25 November. 

Whether you are for or against the Chancellor’s economic policy of austerity, news that the DfT has willingly subscribed to further cuts should be considered as very worrisome for cyclists. 

The odds are high that in the DfT the axe will not fall upon the big budget £15bn roads investment.

Instead, it seems the Government will renege on its Manifesto commitment to “reduce the number of cyclists and other road users killed or injured on our roads every year” and will slice further funding from programmes which will help make cycling, walking and our streets in general safer. This Government wants to be seen as one that builds. This means big projects: High Speed 2, airport expansion in the South East and roads. “Lesser profile” projects, such as local cycle infrastructure, are therefore lined up to feed the larger project ambition. 

However, just because a project is larger, does not mean it is right for the larger picture. No more is this true than when it comes to cycle investment. While there will be undoubted benefits (and disbenefits) to the proposed larger projects, cycling investment has a role to play. 

DfT figures have shown the average return of investment (ROI) for cycling sits at 5:1. This is comfortably above the 4:1 ROI which DfT classifies as “good”, and far better than the average 2:1 ROI for roads. CTC’s Economic Cycle has shown that cycling could be worth £248bn by 2050 if the Get Britain Cycling targets of 10 per cent of all journeys, rising to 25 per cent, are met.

However, despite a Prime Ministerial commitment to a “cycling revolution”, cycling still seems set to suffer under his friend the Chancellor’s watch. In the last throes of the coalition Government, we saw a legal commitment to a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) introduced, and since this was added to the statute books in the summer, it very much appears as though this Government feels it has done enough for cycling.

Funding for the CWIS may not even appear until the end of 2016. It is sadly unlikely that the level of funding will be anywhere close to the £10 a head annual figure which is the very least needed to introduce real results. This figure has been recognised by both the Prime Minister and Cycling Minister Robert Goodwill MP as the standard to aim for, but it very much appears to be rejected by the Chancellor. 

The delay and potential cuts to funding provision for the CWIS are further compounded by the end of Local Sustainable Transport Funding in April 2016. This means effectively that funding outside of London and the eight Cycling Cities will evaporate, and the UK will be back to the “stop start” cycle funding which is responsible for so many delays. 

It’s an unpleasant form of torture HM Treasury are inflicting on cycling: death by a thousand cuts. It means under the Chancellor, the Prime Minister’s “Cycling Revolution” is becoming “Cycling’s Dissolution”.

All is not lost and we still have time to convince HM Treasury to reconsider its current disastrous course of action ahead of the Spending Review. CTC will look to call on our supporters to help reverse the trend in the coming days. We will issue the call via social media, so please make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter