Cameras to Go! – Partnerships a No! No!
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Dingwell, Scotland – Just over a decade ago a summer day ride to the coast was a pleasant and enjoyable experience.
Sure there would be a police presence, but this often took the shape of a friendly nod, a wagging finger or if ‘pulled’ a chat about bikes and a warning, best noted, not to be the fastest thing on the A23.
Then in 1999 Mr Gatso hit town and with him the Safety Camera Partnerships (SCP). Only eight at first but by 2006, as part of the UK National Safety Camera Scheme, SCP’s totalled thirty-eight in England and Wales covering forty-one police force areas out of a total of forty-three. SCP’s were self-perpetuating. A unique feature being that the revenue raised by the cameras was ring-fenced for investment back into the running and maintenance of the original cameras and investment in more cameras. The more people who were fined for speeding the more revenue was generated which allowed more cameras to be installed and so on and so on. Handily any SCP ‘profits’ were passed directly to the Treasury and into government coffers, not necessarily to be spent on road safety.
In April 2007 things changed, the safety camera funding regime had become politically contentious, questions were raised over camera effectiveness. To neatly sidestep the criticism government changed its approach to camera funding. Revenue from safety cameras began being distributed to local authorities instead of being reclaimed by the SCP’s. SCP’s were referred to as ‘casualty reduction partnership’, ‘road awareness partnership’, ‘safer roads partnership’, or similar.
So what’s all this to do with a ride to the coast. Well the setting up of SCP’s, with associated casualty reduction targets and obsession with speed, let a genie out of the road safety bottle. Both the old SCP’s and new ‘brand’ needed to be seen to doing something. So let’s focus on the allegedly biggest problem, i.e. motorcycling, hence the ‘problem’ of motorcycling was born. Hence on my trips to the coast I’m faced with speed cameras of all types and sizes, police officers, paramedics, fire persons, community speed watch pilgrims, first responders and air ambulance flybys. Invites to every type of retraining scheme from the compulsory to the voluntary. I’ve been offered, condoms, underpants, knickers, socks, mugs, badges, key rings, stickers on all subjects and of most sizes, CD’s, DVD’s, tapes, books, manuals, pamphlets, booklets, book markers, entry to competitions, hi viz sam brown’s, waistcoats, jackets and armbands. Crash cards to inform paramedics of my blood type and close relatives of my imminent demise. As one jester I met recently in petrol station said: “It would simpler to set up ride through safety ‘shops’ on all the major roads out of London. Bikers would be directed into them, given the ‘usual’ you bike you die pep talk, handed the goody bag and sent on their way to enjoy a relatively uninterrupted trip”. Question. Has any of this made me a better and safer rider?
Of course one of the real consequences of SCP’s has been the sea change in the deliver of road safety. The emphasis on the small local authority teams of highly qualified committed professional road safety officers undertaking locally driven education, training and publicity has gone. Instead we have the ‘partnerships’ peopled by ex police officers and other civil service early retirees, more interested in self promotion, finding the right contractor and coming up with a campaign to get the partnership noticed than the fundamentals of road safety. All justified of course by contacts with the user groups and stakeholders who are used to rubber stamp projects. Quite simple road safety has moved from a service to an industry, an industry from which a considerable number of people are making a lot of money, money which comes from your pocket.
The budgetary reductions, confirmed by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport Mike Penning MP at the Road Safety Delivery Board meeting on June 16, will see 27% of the road safety funding coming from central government cut. Penning also repeated the message that the ‘war on the motorist’ is over. This can be interpreted as the main cuts falling on the burgeoning road safety partnerships which will be reduced in size or in some cases fold. Along with large parts of the enforcement infrastructure i.e. safety cameras, specialist police officers, civilian camera operators, back office functions disappearing.
What Penning is overseeing is a return to pre 1999 road safety provision, modest budgets with modest outcomes. Hardly surprising that leading voices from UK road safety have called the cuts ‘catastrophic’, ‘a dereliction of duty’ and from Alan Kennedy, chair of Road Safety GB, a warning that road casualties will almost certainly rise because of the scale of budget cuts.
Riders may well be in for a quieter time on the roads. But if Alan Kennedy is correct at what price? If he is wrong then why did road safety in the UK travel the ‘partnership’ road in the first place?
The next experiment starts here.
Be careful out there, you may need to be.
© Back Roads Rider 2010