An underfunding of cycling and walking crisis
I’m tempted to say that Friday is funding day at Cycling UK, because today’s blog follows successive Friday blogs calling on the Government to show us the money for active travel and asking how they hoped to double cycling without doubling investment.
The truth is, however, that currently every day is a funding day for us. That’s because, as our CEO Paul Tuohy explained in his email to our members in England this week, securing more money for cycling and walking is vital, and an immediate priority.
Yes, I know. More funding is also needed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but transport funding is a devolved matter, and our current funding campaign is focussed on opportunities to get more money for active travel in England because there are immediate opportunities.
An underfunding of cycling and walking crisis
Ramping up that funding campaign, we sent the former Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP a letter earlier this week, explaining that we’re currently facing a climate crisis, a congestion crisis, a pollution crisis and an inactivity-related health crisis. Underpinning all of these is a long-term ‘underfunding of cycling and walking crisis’.
Quoting the Government’s own targets to increase walking and double cycling by 2025, and the admission by former Transport Minister Jesse Norman MP in May that the Government would only get one third of the way towards this with current investment, we asked Mr Grayling to make it clear to the Treasury that they must have more money for active travel, and that they can’t deliver the Government’s targets without this.
Grayling’s gone, and Bo Jo’s back
Since then, Boris Johnson has been appointed Prime Minister, Mr Grayling has lost his job, Grant Shapps MP has replaced him as Secretary of State, and Chris Heaton-Harris has taken over from Michael Ellis as the Transport Minister whose responsibilities include cycling and walking together with road safety.
Of course, in the world of politics currently Brexit dominates. But within days it’s likely that the Treasury will fire the starting gun on a spending review, with every Government department asking for more money and identifying priorities, so it’s extremely helpful if incoming Ministers realise that active travel is a priority.
We’ve hopefully moved this further up the priority list, with over 1,000 people writing directly to Mr Grayling within 24 hours in support of our own letter and asking:
- Whether the Department for Transport (DfT) is planning to at least double the level of investment in active travel?
- If not, how and why the Secretary of State disagrees with Jesse Norman’s evidence on the investment needed?
- If not, how the DfT hopes to achieve the Government’s targets to double cycling without increasing investment?
But we need more people to ask!
Grayling may be gone, but the new ministerial team at the DfT will still have to answer these questions and will be told by officials how many people have sent letters seeking increased funding for active travel.
Potentially double or more the investment
When we launched our funding campaign last year, we asked people to write to their MPs and the transport cabinet leads at their local authorities. Over 5,000 people did, leading over 160 MPs and many local authorities to write to Jesse Norman MP about funding – and then he admitted publicly in May that the Government needed to “potentially double or more” the level of investment to reach their targets, and ought to be committing itself to that.
But we need to keep the pressure on so that Ministers don’t start thinking about how much money’s left for active travel after they’ve already allocated billions elsewhere, but rather start by asking how much is needed to even meet the Government’s own modest targets.
That’s why we need more of you to take action and write, or write again, directly to the new Secretary of State for Transport asking him to show you the money for cycling and walking.
We’re going to carry on quoting Jesse Norman’s own words back to the DfT as push them to push for more money from the Treasury for active travel because, after the ministerial merry-go-round, that’s where Jesse Norman now sits as a Minister.
The obvious question now is: will the Treasury accept its own Minister’s evidence on the funding needed to meet the Government’s targets?
And Boris is back. Arguably a 'Marmite' figure, but let's focus purely on cycling for a moment: as London Mayor he did invest in cycling, most notably with the Cycle Superhighways and the Mini-Holland schemes.
So, questions for Boris would be whether the rest of the country deserves the level of investment in active travel that London received during his mayoral term, and will he show leadership?
Leadership is important.
Ironically, Tuesday’s publication of the Transport Select Committee’s (TSC) report following its inquiry into active travel, which included a call for leadership from Government with more ambitious targets for active travel and increased funding, didn’t attract the coverage it deserved. Instead, the news that day was all about Boris winning the Conservative party leadership election.
But with the TSC recommending that: active travel must be prioritised; the Government’s Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) should be revised to include more ambitious targets; more investment is needed through a dedicated funding stream; and that the Government show leadership, we’ll also be quoting the TSC’s words back to the Government along with Jesse Norman’s.
Write and write again
So, we’re going to be asking you over the summer to write and write again to different people, to make your voice heard on the urgent need for more funding. This week it’s the new Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, but next week it will probably be his new Minister Chris Heaton-Harris, and then perhaps Jesse Norman at the Treasury, or the Prime Minister asking him to show leadership.
But today, please give us two minutes of your time and take action now by emailing Grant Shapps and asking where’s the money for active travel?
A normal not a niche activity
I know – people have e-activism fatigue, and you might ask whether it can make a difference.
Well, thousands of you emailed your MPs earlier this year in support of our funding campaign, including several who live in Chris Heaton-Harris’s Daventry constituency. And his letter in response to constituents included this paragraph:
“It seems strange that for ages cycling has been seen as a niche activity, rather than a normal activity for all. If we can increase levels of walking and cycling, the benefits are substantial. For people, it means cheaper travel and better health. For business, it means increased productivity and increased footfall in shops. And for society as a whole it means lower congestion, better air quality, and vibrant, attractive places and communities”.
We can’t argue with that, and it was members and supporters taking the time to send an email that elicited that response. Sadly, there’s no prizes for guessing what words we’re going to be quoting back at Chris Heaton-Harris!
So yes, it really does help when you take the time to support our campaigns, even if it’s just sending an email.
The most important issue we need your help with
We’re asking the Government to prioritise active travel funding, but we need you to repeat that message. This is the most important issue we’ll ask for your help with this year.
Please give us two minutes of your time to write to the Transport Secretary.
We’ve made this easy with a draft editable letter, and you can also email your MP.
Please join us in asking the Government to show us the money for cycling and walking.