Cycle to work? Not us! Manchester City Council workers left in the slipstream of rival schemes across city and UK

Exclusive by Eve Commander

Manchester has failed to meet the targets for the number of people in cycle-to-work schemes and is instead lagging behind the South, MM can reveal.

Participants for the council’s cycle-to-work scheme is almost 25% lower than they predicted in 2009 and nearly eight times lower than other Manchester employers.

Manchester City Council has issued 825 certificates for their cycle-to-work scheme from 2009-2012 and a further 200 this year – representing a 4.18% increase among their employees, according to an FOI request.

In comparison Manchester Fire and Rescue Service who employ almost ten times less workers have issued more than 1000 certificates, constituting a 43.17% uptake among its workforce.

The cycle-to-work scheme is part of the government’s push to get cyclists on the road and allows employers to loan bikes and cycling safety equipment to employees as a tax-free benefit.

The average uptake is around 4% and can shoot up to around 10% in engineering industries with male-dominated workforces whilst retailors such as ASDA and Sainsbury’s drop below 2% due to having a diverse, often rotating staff.

Daniel Gillborn, of CycleScheme, which tenders 34,000 Cycle-to-work contracts including Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and, previously, Manchester City Council, said: “We tend to see higher uptake of in well-established schemes where there are male-based work forces and where staff live in a small local radius to their offices.

“The private sector often leads the way.

“Although we often see a 30% uptake from fire and rescue services, the figures for Manchester Fire and Rescue Service are really incredible.”

Manchester Fire and Rescue Service say they have worked hard to promote cycling among staff by fitting all workplaces with lockers and showers, they have also developed ‘fire bikes’ for volunteers to use for fire prevention activities.

GMFRS Sustainability Manager Sam Pickles said: “We set up our cycle to work scheme because we’re an environmentally conscious organisation, full of very fit people. Whilst we hoped for some interest in the scheme, we couldn’t possibly have imagined how successful it has become.

“Encouraging cycling is just one part of a big push to make GMFRS more environmentally friendly. Our next challenge is to do even better.”

Despite their uptake being vastly inferior to other employers, Manchester City Council said they are pleased with uptake to their scheme and expect the figure to rise.

A spokesman for the council said: “Given that the majority of commuter journeys in Greater Manchester are less than five kilometres there is significant potential for encouraging more people to cycle if we can deliver the infrastructure that will enable people to feel able to cycle.“

However, a report in May revealed Manchester is languishing behind the South in terms of uptake to Cycle to Work Schemes.

The Cycle to Work Alliance Sustainable Transport Report found that 32% of workers who take up the scheme are in the South and South East, with 17% of cyclist coming from the London area in comparison to 12% uptake in the Northwest.

Simon Darby, of the Cycle to Work Alliance, which represents the major bike retailers in England, says the results are reflective of regional backing.

“The report is simply broadly representative of the London-centric nature of cycling in the past couple of years partly caused by the strength of political support from successive London Mayors,” he said.

The report also showed that more than 70% of participants would not have brought their bike unless they were part of the scheme.

Yet, when the Departments of Health, Transport and Culture introduced the ‘Cycle to Work Scheme Guarantee’ in 2009, which enabled employers pledge their support for schemes, Manchester City Council didn’t sign up, despite more than 40 local authorities doing so.

A council spokesman explained their decision and said: “While Manchester City Council did not sign up to the Cycle to Work Guarantee we feel that we have supported most if not all of the general principles in any case.

“We are currently considering signing up to the ‘business-cycle’ partnership that has been developed to oversee the original purpose of the guarantee.”

Manchester City Council believes its new 2025 Velocity programme, which has received a £20million grant from the government, will raise the number of cyclists in Manchester above cities such as London and Bristol.

“While we obviously compete with one another for funding from central Government we share a lot of information, experience and best practice with one another so that we can all deliver improved cycling infrastructure for our residents,” a council spokesman said.

“What perhaps does make us different is the fact that British Cycling, Team GB Cycling and Team Sky are based here with many of our cycling stars also being commuters on Manchester’s roads.”

Manchester City Council will release the latest figures for their Cycle-to-Work-Scheme this month.

Image courtesy of Cooper via Flickr, with thanks.

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