Video speech by Norman Baker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.
Hello, I’m sorry that I can’t be with you at your conference today (11 July 2012), but thanks to video technology, I’m delighted to be able to make a contribution to this important event to mark the first conference for the Association of Bikeability Schemes, or TABS as you are commonly referred to.
The coalition government wants to encourage people to make more journeys by sustainable, carbon-friendly modes of transport, of course including cycling. Cycling brings many benefits, and as a government we are keen to encourage its uptake as a healthy and enjoyable transport choice for the individual, which also helps to ease congestion and cut carbon for society as a whole.
Bikeability plays a crucial role in both encouraging and enabling individuals to cycle and it is important that the next generation of cyclists is well prepared with the skills and confidence to ride safely and well on modern roads.
Learning to ride a bike is not just about safety - although that’s important - it’s also a life skill. It’s about gaining independence and broadening knowledge of your environment. Exploring and getting to know your local area by bike was a part of growing up for me, as it happily is for many.
I can well remember the excitement I got when my dad provided me with my first bike when I was a young lad back in Aberdeen and the freedom it gave me to cycle round the streets of the town and exploring places I had never been to before. I also recall my father arranging for a police officer to come and give me cycling proficiency training in my back garden, something I found intimidating at the time but I think it stood me in good steed ever since.
I also recall my first day in the Department for Transport, when I asked my civil servants how it was possible to get from the department to the House of Commons for a vote given that it took 10 minutes or so to walk over and the division bell gives you 8 minutes to arrive. I found the answer was to have a chauffeur waiting downstairs with a car, no doubt with the engine running, that’s been now stopped. I now have use of the departments Brompton which gets me across to the House of Commons in speedy time when neccessary
My ministerial colleagues and I firmly believe in the value of cycle training, especially for children. That’s why we have committed to fund Bikeability for the remainder of this parliament to ensure that many more thousands of children will receive the solid grounding to set them up as lifelong cyclists.
On the 11 April, I was also delighted to confirm that as well as the £11 million of grants agreed for this year, a further £24 million will be allocated by the Department for Transport over the following 2 years. This includes an extra £2 million to support expansion of the scheme on top of money originally earmarked for Bikeability. Additional local contributions worth an estimated £11.5 million are expected over the next 3 years.
I am also pleased to be enabling the delivery of a wider range of training to a broader age range of school children between years 5 and 9. Level 1 and 2 training are a good start and lay the foundations but Level 3 can give the budding cyclist the skills and confidence to carry on growing and to ride on all roads where cycling is permitted. That’s why we have loosened the grant rules to allow Level 3 training.
Now Bikeability simply wouldn’t exist without the dedication of the many instructors and Bikeability schemes. It may of course be a wonderful job on a bright sunny afternoon, but I’m equally aware it can be less wonderful on a cold, wet, windy morning.
Bikeability celebrated its 5th birthday in March and I think it’s important to celebrate what we together have achieved. Initially there were around 18 local authorities delivering fewer than 8,000 training places.
We now offer grants to 108 local authorities and 65 school games organiser host schools. Current DfT funding levels make it possible for at least 275,000 pupils to be trained every year and we expect to see the 1 millionth pupil trained before the end of this parliament.
Behind this success are over 6000 registered national standard instructors and more than 360 Bikeability schemes delivering training nationwide.
The next stage in Bikeability progression is the cycle training industry organising its own industry body, something I am very pleased to see. This marks an important step in the maturing of the industry and it will be useful to us to be able to hear your collective voice through TABS. Thank you for being involved.
As well as providing a voice for the industry, we recognise the important role TABS can play in supporting and maintaining quality assurance. It’s important we get this right so that we remove the obstacles for those who are hesitant to take part in cycling, either for themselves or for their children. We also know that it can be difficult to get into secondary schools for all sorts of reasons, but we hope with your persistence, this can change over time too.
That’s why quality assurance is so important: people have to believe that Bikeability is delivered to a uniformly high standard and that their children are getting professional, well-delivered training. We know standards are high, but we all need to keep striving for continual improvement.
At the DfT we have a big part to play in other areas too. Making drivers more aware of cyclist needs, improving road design, making cycling a normal part of the transport mix, these are all things we can help with and which we are actively working on. Local councils have their part to play in this agenda too.
Bikeability is a success. The UK is ahead of other nations in this area. We should be proud of this, but not complacent. But I know that TABS can help make what is already good even better. That is your challenge.
My thanks go to TABS for putting together this excellent event. I am looking forward to working with you to ensure the continued delivery of high quality cycle training.
Thank you for listening to me and I wish you a great conference.