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Translating the benefits of active travel into new models of funding and delivery

Active travel practitioners are natural innovators and conditions are now in place to translate this energy into new models of service delivery. Socially-minded investors are looking for opportunities to invest; by bringing them together with the public sector, there is the opportunity to deliver programmes that will create lasting change, says Jonathan Foster-Clark, senior transport strategy advisor, Atkins

Jonathan Foster-Clark
31 March 2017
Jonathan Foster-Clark senior transport strategy advisor, Atkins, was the The Funding and Devolution Workshop facilitator
Jonathan Foster-Clark senior transport strategy advisor, Atkins, was the The Funding and Devolution Workshop facilitator


A very thought-provoking workshop was held at the recent Landor LINKS-organised Sustainable Transport and Health Summit in Bristol on the 24 February. The Funding and Devolution Workshop was facilitated by Atkins with the objective of enabling networking and providing an opportunity for delegates to meet outside of their own day-to-day practice. I was joined in the workshop by an expert panel including Beth Hiblin, Transport for Quality of Life, Liz O’Driscoll, Exeter City Futures CIC, Jon Harris, Harris Ethical, Chris Rushbrooke, Living Streets and Phil Jones, Phil Jones Associates. The issues debated took in securing mainstream funding for smarter choices within local authorities, local authority dependency – or otherwise – on ‘handouts’ to fund smarter choices, and how devolution deals are helping to secure revenue for smarter choices.

The cost of poor health to the economy, both chronic ill health and shorter-term absence from the workplace, is a critical issue for our national productivity and competitiveness. As transport professionals, we understand our role in promoting increased active travel to support these goals. Recently we have gained a wealth of experience through programmes such as the Sustainable Travel Towns, Cycling Cities and the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). The recent ‘What Works’ report on the LSTF evaluation provides clear guidance on how to plan, mobilise and deliver successful projects with positive outcomes*.

In order to deliver long-term behaviour change through programmes that actually work, the biggest challenge is to secure long-term funding and reduce dependence on short-term funding initiatives from the Department of Transport (DfT).

Beth Hiblin, associate, Transport for Quality of Life has reinforced the importance of juggling opportunities for funding active travel projects more efficiently. “Stop-start funding means authorities often work very inefficiently; having to rebuild teams, relationships and initiatives with each new funding round. It is imperative we get better at maintaining some continuity with a base of ‘bare minimum’ funding sustaining things between pitches to bigger pots.”

Some of the outcomes from the DfT’s Access Fund have brought disappointment with many local authorities failing to secure any funding, whilst others secured only limited funding. Many in the industry appear to have forgotten that one of the principles of LSTF was to reduce dependence on DfT funding, and to bring smarter choices into ‘business as usual’ activity within local authorities. However, this fails to recognise the challenges of austerity and continued severe pressure on local government finances. The devolution deals and long-term funding for the Combined Authorities provide the opportunity to deliver greater funding security in these areas, but they are few in number. For many in local government there is a pressing need to develop new sources of funding for behaviour change programmes at a time when there are multiple pressures on local government budgets.

Phil Jones, Phil Jones Associates recently explored Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) as one such opportunity. They provide an opportunity for private sector investment in programmes that deliver positive social outcomes, including promoting active travel, on a payment by results basis. They are an ideal tool for transferring risk from the public sector, as the commissioner of the programme only pays when the results are achieved and they can unlock innovation in service delivery. Ethical investors are meanwhile seeking opportunities to invest in programmes that deliver good social outcomes. There is the opportunity to bring these parties together with a delivery agency and service providers, who are paid on the basis of results achieved. The investor then receives revenues on the basis of the results achieved – so they are motivated to support effective programmes.

The success of SIBs depends on commissioners of services being willing to consider more innovative approaches to service delivery and having a robust approach to measurement of the outcomes. In the case of active travel programmes, it will require effective collaboration between public sector agencies to ensure that the health benefits of active travel are reflected in the ‘payment by results’ framework. This will require a clear shared understanding of how active travel helps to drive health benefits and therefore reduced costs to other service providers.

Payment by results implies that the outcomes of active travel programmes will need to be measured. This will need robust evaluation, not just outputs but also the outcomes of our programmes. This will help the wider profession; payment by results programmes will encourage greater discipline in target-setting with the added rigour of securing financial returns for investors.

Social Impact Bonds are still in their infancy. Programmes to date in the UK have focused on areas including children’s services and offending but there is limited experience in active travel. Our challenge is to bring this innovative thinking into the mainstream of travel behaviour change programmes. This will mean learning from other sectors and the programmes that are now taking place in cities such as Exeter, where Exeter City Futures is working with the venture capital industry to support accelerator companies with new models of service delivery. A key challenge is to ensure that we have robust evidence of how to deliver increased numbers of people walking and cycling, to demonstrate how this will achieve health benefits, and to devise new frameworks for measurement of the outcomes that can be delivered.

Transport & Health 2018 will take place in early 2018. Please contact [email protected] // for further information or with suggestions for content.

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