Cambridge City Council is currently attempting to find savings so that it can balance its budget for 2008/9 in light of a number of strains on the budget which it is only just taking account of. These strains (detailed a separate article) include losses due to money taken online for Folk Festival not being passed to the council, and the loss of interest from investments in Icelandic banks which are now insolvent.
One of the biggest savings, revealed for the first time in a report produced in advance of a meeting of the council’s executive on the 29th of January 2009, was £250,000 from Cycleways. There was no detail given in the report which stated only:
Cycleways Capital Programme – Underspend in 2008/09 allows reprogramming of project delivery. (£250,000)
The Cambridge News reported this stating:
£250,000 has been cut from next year’s cycleway improvement programme.
In my article following the publication of the report I listed it under the heading of “New Proposed Cuts, January 2009″ as:
Cycleways Capital Programme (”reprogrammed”) £250,000
Based on council’s reports those were both reasonably accurate. However councillors were very upset at the way this item was being reported. They passed an amendment to the report including more detail, in introducing the amendment Cllr Reid, the executive councillor responsible clarified that this money [primarily] refers to the City Council’s contribution to a joint City Council / County Council fund for cycleways. She said that in the future the council would be keeping up its £150,000 per year contribution.
Cllr Reid explained that grant funding from Cycling England had been obtained cover this spending, and that in future this addition source of grant income would result in increased funding for cycleways in the future. The clear implication there being that for the upcoming year the grant is being received but no increased funding of cycleways is resulting from it.
Cllr Reid said there had been a historic underspend on cycleways primarily due to frustrations with changing county council policies. She stated that all currently identified feasible schemes being considered by the joint fund would be funded.
Cllr Howell said that this confusion illustrated the problem of the detail behind the budget cuts not being available. Opposition councillors had only the same information which had been made available to the public, and it had been published only a day or so before the meeting. He said the effects of the cuts listed were “as clear as mud”. He pointed to sentences containing both phrases such as “one off saving” as well as “rescheduling” leaving it unclear as to if spending was in fact being cut.
Cllr Herbert pushed for an answer on if the city council would be spending less on cycleways; he did not get a clear answer.
Cllr Hipkin tried to ask the same question – asking if the £250K could be explained as the council had come into a “windfall” from Cycling England.
Cllr Reid said this was basically right, but was a bad term as she had worked hard to obtain this funding.
In summary the council is reducing its own funding of cycle-ways as a result of having obtained the Cycling England grant. The Cycling England Grant is being used to enable the release of £250,000 into the council’s general funds to help cover losses from the Folk Festival ticketing, Icelandic Banks and other strains.
I have written to Cycling England to ask them what they think of their funding not actually having an impact on the area they intended it to. Surely they expected their funding to be over and above what the council was already intending to spend. If that grant does not have terms and conditions attached insisting on this then Cycling England appears to me to be being totally ineffective in its role of distributing taxpayers money to improve cycling, all they are doing is providing windfalls to councils to do as they please with. I have asked Cycling England for a comment on Cambridge City Council’s proposed actions.