Transport minister Norman Baker has announced £62m is to be pumped into cycling in the UK claiming, in a DfT press release, that it is "the largest ever allocation of funding for cycling to date."
In the pledge, cities will be able to bid for a £30m fund to improve cycle safety. A further £32m will go towards improving road junctions, providing more cycle parking at rail stations and funding cycle routes in national parks.
The centrepiece of the package will be a new fund for cities outside London to improve their cycling infrastructure. The transport minister said that he expected to receive submissions from local authorties by the summer. “We are keen to get a move on. The intention is to spend it as soon as possible,” he said.
Is the £62m new money? It doesn’t appear to be. As is normal with ministerial announcements of "new cash injections" it’s always prudent to go back to previous announcements and do a few sums. £20m of the funding was announced early last year, and £42m was announced in the autumn statement from the chancellor. The £62m is not new as in new but is new as in repackaged to look new.
The DfT press release alludes to the massaging of the figures:
"Over the last 12 months the government has announced £107 million will be made available for cycling during this Parliament. Today the government confirmed the allocation of £57 million from this…".
"Confirmed the allocation of" is code for "we already announced this and here we are announcing it again making it look like more money so we get great headlines."
And the claim that £62m is "the largest ever allocation of funding for cycling to date" also crumbles with the merest flick through the archives. In January 2008, the previous administration announced £140m for cycling. This was to be spent over three years but, then, Norman Baker’s "new" cash injection of £62m is not just for 2013.
Baker also often claims that cycling has a large share of the £400m Local Sustainable Transport Fund cash but many of the schemes that are being funded through this are "congestion relief" schemes, mostly buses and "removing pinch point" schemes.
British Cycling has welcomed the £62m funding package but has said that it’s still a drop in the ocean.
Martin Gibbs, British Cycling’s director for policy and legal affairs, said:
“It’s a credit to Norman Baker that he is securing this increased funding for cycling infrastructure but what we need is long-term, sustained investment and a strategy to put cycling at the heart of transport policy.
"The total funding package works out at less than £1 pound per head of the population per year. The Dutch spend £25 pounds per head per year, and have been doing so for decades. We need to match that level of funding to get Britain cycling.”
Even if it were new money, £62m is small change lost down the back of the sofa when you consider Britain’s "austerity" road and rail building plans.
John Grimshaw, founder of Sustrans, once told of a road building conversation he had with one-time Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey:
“Healey said a ‘billion here, a billion there…Soon you are talking about quite serious money.’ All ministers are preoccupied with huge projects. Yet cycling breaks this rule. By spending pathetically small amounts of money, huge improvements can be made in cycling provision. The cost of a small by-pass would quadruple the national cycle network. The cost of one mile of motorway would increase it ten times. The benefits are enormous.”