Whitehall mandarins fail their cycling efficiency test

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CIVIL servants are refusing to get on their bikes, writes Geoffrey Lean. Despite a specific instruction from the Deputy Prime Minister last autumn, Whitehall has failed to "set a good example" by cutting unnecessary travel and urging staff on to public transport, bikes and their feet.

As John Prescott today chairs a meeting of environment ministers which will discuss how to combat global warming, research shows that only one of the 17 government departments has acted to cut pollution by switching to more environmentally friendly transport.

Not one has begun to charge its officials for parking cars on its premises or given a date for introducing a plan for changing the way they travel to work - as urged by Mr Prescott. Even his own ministry - the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) - has done no more than to set up "pilot projects" to prepare plans for three of its buildings.

In an effort to improve their green image, DETR officials will this week be offered interest-free loans to buy bicycles if they use them to get to work. The department has set aside a large area for bicycle parking. It is more than six months, however, since junior transport minister Glenda Jackson sent out detailed recommendations for "reducing the level of unnecessary travel" and "encouraging those who have to travel to do so in a way that minimises the environmental impact".

Parliamentary questions by Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, last week revealed that only the Department for Education and Employment has taken specific steps to change its transport policies since the recommendations, and even these are limited.

t Mr Prescott briefly looked like an endangered species himself yesterday after a painful encounter with a rare parrot at theenvironment ministers' meeting at Leeds Castle, Kent.

Chuckie, a red-headed macaw, which packs a bite of 340lb per square inch, bit him on the finger and then leapt from its keeper's shoulder on to his arm. "That's wildlife for you," said Mr Prescott.

So far, the parrot is showing no ill effects.

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