At first glance, it might seem that the recent (or should that be latest?) scandal involving disgraced ex-Minister Ron Davies has a narrow scope of victims, but a broader view demonstrates far reaching potential impact for the Caerphilly economy.
It’s safe to say that nobody expected to see the former MP at the centre of the Clapham Common and Tog Hill “badgergate” scandals back in the news for video seeming to show more woodlands based misdemeanors. It’s even safer to say that we didn’t expect the wildlife charity he is trustee of to firstly attack members of the public asking them for a response to the news, then to condemn the actions in a press statement, then retract the statement, go back to a highly defensive (and some would say secretive) position and delete further queries from their social media page, before finally giving a very reluctant comment but refusing to comment on the trap situation. In fact, the mystery spokesperson wouldn’t even give us a name to attribute the quotes below to:
Casting aside the potentially horrific consequences of the traps laid, and the impression that the Caerphilly Woodlands Trust would rather close ranks than address the issue of their rogue trustee, there’s another angle to this sorry story – the value of mountain biking in economic terms to a local area, and the risk to those revenues if participants in this high value, growing sport are forced out.
At the very same time as traps were being laid in the woods, the Scottish Government’s Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) team was hosting an arena at the world famous Eurobike trade show in Germany, having just had verification from the Office of National Statistics that mountain biking as a sport, an industry and a tourism/visitor driver was worth a staggering £363 million to the Scottish economy* (*source: “Scotland’s Pedal Power”, September 2016).
Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Business, Innovation & Energy, even comments “Scottish Government is focused on increasing Scotland’s international impact and it is fantastic to see a niche industry with growing importance like mountain biking excel in Scotland. We have the perfect terrain and conditions for the activity. It is great that entrepreneurs are inspired by the world class mountain biking in Scotland and are going on to utilise the support available to them to develop new products and export them across the world. With global cycle sales topping £31 billion per annum, Scotland can be well prepared to develop its offering in this sector. The support offered to these companies is first class and is undoubtedly helping to expand their business and grow the Scottish economy as a result.”
These figures might on the surface seem huge and distant at national level, but even on a city or town microeconomic level, there’s a staggering set of revenue figures from the sport and participants.
Contrary to the false impression given by Mr Davies in his statement to the BBC, mountain biking is far from a sport mainly practiced by spotty teens – by virtue of being an expensive hobby, it attracts a high value participant group that any region would be keen to host. A national mountain bike participant survey carried out in late 2015 found some truly staggering demographic information for active participants of the sport – a few highlights below:
- Average age of 37 years old
- 51% married
- 46% have children under 16
- £52,470 combined household income (vs a national average of £30,630)
- 79% ride at least once a week
- 2 years 9 months between bike purchases with an average spend of £1816 on a bike
- 47% buy their bikes and accessories in their local bike shop
- Average annual spend of £452 on spares, clothing and accessories
What does this mean on a local level? The local Caerphilly MTB group on Facebook, founded to give a voice to riders in the light of the latest scandal, has 372 members. Working with the above figures, the value of just 372 riders (who we know are only a tiny proportion of riders in the area gives some staggering results:
- Combined household income “pot” of £19.51 Million – what region wouldn’t want a group of people with that spending power?!?
- £79,027 spend on just spares, clothing & accessories in their local Caerphilly bike shop (£452 average spend, multiplied by 47% of 372)
- Working on an established industry average “spend per head” of £5.45 in local cafes like the Caerphilly Snack Bar, and assuming just 30% of the 372 visit after a ride, that’s £31,627 annual food spend!
- Assuming 30% of the 372 go for one pint and one pack of crisps in “popular with MTBers” pub The Black Cock after a ride each week, at a combined £3.90 spend, that’s £22,632 as a conservative estimate
- 47% of bike purchases are in the local shop, at an average of £1816, every 2 years 9 months, giving a spend of £115,457 on bikes each year in the local shop
- The additional health benefits are likely to see one less doctor’s appointment per year per person, at an NHS internal cost of £45 per appointment – that’s a saving of £16,740 to the local NHS trust!
A quick tot up of these very conservative figures above, shows that just on topline spend around their riding hobby, the 372 riders in the Caerphilly MTB group are worth £186,456 to the Caerphilly economy – never mind the fact they have almost £20M combined spending power by income, and the fact that there are estimated 5 times as many riders come to the area, bringing additional incremental spend around things like accommodation, parking and more.
Clearly, this is a demographic that any region would love to have visiting and spending with them – the direct spend and economic trickledown effect benefit the whole area, not just the riders, which is why the Scottish Government have driven the DMBinS project – it secures the continued participation and economic benefits of the bikers, for the good of all the community.
It would be a crying shame for the dangerous actions of a few, and the mixed code of silence and outward aggressive stance from a charity connected to the culprits to put off either new entrants to the sport, high spending visitors, or long term riders concerned about danger from traps.
Given the fact that so much is at stake both in terms of safety and boosts to the local economy, plus the fact the Caerphilly region has developed so many riders who are now competing on the global circuit – including Wales’ very own World Champion, Manon Carpenter, who rides some of the tracks that have been boobytrapped – isn’t it now high time that a local politician or councillor takes this on as a project, helps resolve conflicts and helps Caerphilly as a town enjoy the benefits of attracting a healthy, wealthy and young at heart sport?