Compass staff are told 'On yer bikes' for new life cycle

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The Independent Online

In 1981, Norman Tebbit, the Conservative Employment Secretary at the time, told how his father got "on his bike" to look for work. Now, 75,000 workers at Compass Group, the caterer, will be offered an incentive to get on their bikes to get to work, as part of one of the biggest employee benefits packages ever launched in the UK.

The Compass programme, being introduced next month, will bring together three government initiatives - on childcare, home computing and green travel - in one deal. UK-based full-time employees will be offered discounts on computers and bicycles as well as vouchers for childcare, along with tax breaks for all three deals.

June Woodhouse, the human resources director at Compass, said the group had been looking to upgrade what it was offering on childcare vouchers to take into account a change in the taxation system. After talking to a leading employee benefits group, Futuremedia, it decided to roll this into a programme also offering computers and bicycles.

The cycles will come from Halfords, the UK's biggest bicycle retailer. It has put together a programme, which has been taken up by more than 100 employers, to offer leases on bicycles. Employees can lease up to two bikes, as well as clothing and safety equipment, and the cost of the lease is tax deductible.

Paul Bullett, the director of Halfords Business Services, said that the take-up of the cycles scheme had been good, particularly once the first person in a workplace had tried it.

"Once people see their colleagues enjoying it and there is no hidden agenda, then they go for it," said Mr Bullett.

The home computing initiative has been popular among employers, with thousands of workplaces offering it. Workers buy the computer and the cost is deducted from their salaries over a period of time. Ms Woodhouse said that Compass would load the computers it is offering with educational software, with information about nutrition and health, as well as an English course for staff for whom English was not their first language.

The most valuable benefit, though, will be childcare vouchers. Workers with children will be able to purchase up to £50 of vouchers a week, tax free, to use to pay for nursery care. For a higher-rate tax payers, this could mean a saving of up to £1,000 a year.

The total savings for someone who takes up the whole offer from Compass could be £1,200 for a top-rate taxpayer. But as the average salary for Compass employees is less than £13,000 a year, few will benefit that much.