Who controls the future of cycling in England in the new Government?

Who’s in and who’s out? Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore takes a look at the ministerial merry-go-round, the politicians we now need to influence to increase investment in active travel, how we do it, what’s in it for them, and why we need your help now!

In recent weeks Cycling UK has been highlighting the chronic underfunding of cycling and walking in England, asking how the Government in Whitehall hopes to double levels of cycling in England without doubling investment and calling on the Government to show us the money for cycling.

Cycling UK has been making the case for the urgent need for a radical increase in funding because we knew what was coming, and sure enough, last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a one-year Spending Review. This review will determine departmental spending for the next year and may well set the tone for a longer multi-year Spending Review in Autumn 2020.

It’s therefore crucial that we make sure ministers in the Department for Transport (DfT) are fighting for more money for active travel, and ministers in the Treasury realise the contribution this can make towards a whole range of Government policy goals including public health, air pollution, congestion, climate change and just how we move around our towns and cities.

Take action

But with ministers playing musical chairs in recent weeks, it’s perhaps helpful to have a whistle-stop tour through the people we need to influence to move investment in cycling and walking up the political agenda.

Chris Heaton-Harris

MP for Daventry and the Transport Minister with responsibility for cycling and walking, he’s previously called for 20 mph speed limits on residential streets and for greater investment to redesign dangerous junctions and introduce more safe cycle routes to create 'cities fit for cycling'.

Earlier this year he responded to constituents contacting him about our funding campaign saying:

“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.”

So, whilst actions speak louder than words, what the Minister has said previously sounds promising, and it’s him we need to influence first.

He’s the one who needs to convince his boss, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, to submit a bid to the Treasury which includes active travel not as an add-on or a nice-to-have, but a core and enlarged part of the overall DfT budget.

Grant Shapps

MP for Welwyn Hatfield, Secretary of State for Transport and Chris Heaton Harris’s boss.

We never found any reference to his predecessor as Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, ever having cycled. Whilst that may be a low bar, it’s nevertheless a relief that Mr Shapps at least rides a bike occasionally and has engaged with his local cycling group.

Realistically, however, we suspect he’s likely to be so consumed by Brexit-related transport issues that he’ll leave his Minister to focus on cycling and walking, so it’s really Chris Heaton-Harris who needs to be convinced to stand up for cycling and fight for funding.

Rishi Sunak

MP for Richmond in Yorkshire, and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the second most senior post at the Treasury after the Chancellor – and crucially, the Minister with responsibility for the Spending Review.

It’s Rishi Sunak who’ll be being pestered by every department seeking more money, including the DfT. There’s not much to suggest any previous interest in cycling or active travel, but his ministerial colleague and Financial Secretary at the Treasury is Jesse Norman MP, whose role includes acting as Mr Sunak’s deputy on public spending issues.

It was of course Jesse Norman, a transport minister at the time, who confirmed in May that the Government would need to potentially double or more its level of investment to reach its target of doubling levels of cycling by 2025, and said the Government ought to be committing itself to doing so.

So, at the Treasury we need to convince Rishi Sunak, but it might help to remind his deputy about his comments on doubling!

Boris Johnson

And then there’s the Prime Minister.

Opinions will be divided on Marmite lines, but let’s park everything else and just stick with cycling.

As London Mayor he did eventually show leadership on and invest in cycling, most notably with the Cycle Superhighways and the Mini-Holland schemes. That’s important because the day he won the Conservative party leadership race the Transport Select Committee (TSC) published its report into active travel, which included calls for leadership from Government, more ambitious targets for active travel and increased funding.

Questions for Boris therefore include whether he’ll lead, and whether he agrees that the rest of the country deserves the level of investment in active travel that London received during his mayoral term.

I know we’re searching for clues, but it’s extremely interesting that one of Boris’s first transport-related decisions was to appoint Andrew Gilligan as a Transport Advisor to Downing Street.

Andrew Gilligan

Not a minister or a politician at all, but between 2013 and 2016 Andrew Gilligan was London’s Cycling Commissioner, a post created by Boris Johnson as London Mayor to implement his cycling plans in London.

It was during those three years that much of the new segregated infrastructure was built, leading Boris to reflect as his Mayoral term came to an end, that he should have built more segregated cycle routes and started doing so earlier.

Last year, Andrew Gilligan produced the ‘Running out of road’ report for the National Infrastructure Commission, focussing on the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor.

Indicating that cycling was seen as unimportant and unworthy of serious investment, and that a change in mindset in Government was required, he contrasted the funding required to implement his recommendations with other types of transport expenditure, pointing out that too often funding was either not in place or was not being used for cycling infrastructure.

Gilligan’s views are therefore well-known. He sees active travel as the answer to many problems, and believes it merits substantially increased investment – and we agree.

The question for us is how we help him persuade ministers to listen to him and act?

And how do we do that?

The art of influence

It’s been said that any fool can criticise, complain and condemn – and most fools do – but to influence others you need to talk not just about what you want, but about what they want. This is why when we’re seeking to persuade politicians to invest in active travel rather than something else; we need to point out what’s in it for them.

That means explaining how this can help the high street, address concerns about obesity, reduce air pollution and congestion, and put bluntly, tick a long list of their wider concerns. But it also means showing politicians that there’s votes in this, that there’s a burning platform, and that people want them to act now.

9,000 - but not enough

Over 9,000 people have supported our funding campaign so far, either writing to their MP or directly to the Transport Minister, and often both, calling for increased investment in active travel. That’s fantastic. You are all awesome.

But Cycling UK has 68,000 members. British Cycling has around 130,000, and I haven’t even mentioned membership of Living Streets, other cycling organisations, supporters of Sustrans and the cycle industry.

In that context, 9,000 isn’t many, and it’s certainly not enough. We need many more of you to tell those we need to influence why this is important to you, why it should be important to them, and what’s in it for them.

Because the numbers matter.

Take action now!

As I’ve mentioned, there’s various people we need to influence, but let’s just focus for the minute on the man we need to win over first, and then move up the chain. That’s the minister responsible for cycling and walking, Chris Heaton-Harris.

So, if you haven’t used our online action to email him already, please can you do it now.

It’s really easy. The editable email will be sent to Chris Heaton-Harris, and you can also send an editable email to your MP asking him or her to raise this with the Minister.

If you’ve supported our funding campaign previously and written to the former Minister Jesse Norman, Chris Grayling or Grant Shapps, you can still take action again because the action and emails have changed and are now directed to Chris Heaton-Harris.

The cycling revolution that wasn’t – but could still be

I wrote a blog two weeks ago about the cycling revolution that wasn’t, highlighting that cycling trips had flat-lined and explaining what was needed to change this. You already know the answer – investment.

Please help us show politicians why this is so important, why it matters to you, and what’s in it for them, and take action now!