By Richard Johnstone | 17 May 2013
Scottish councils spent a fifth less on roads maintenance in a year but still managed to improve the condition of the network, according to the Accounts Commission.
In Maintaining Scotland’s roads, the commission found that spending was cut from £492m to around £400m between 2009/10 and 2010/11. In the same period, the proportion of council roads in an acceptable condition increased from 66.1% in 2009/10 to 66.7%.
However, the overall condition of roads has worsened over much of the past decade, according to the auditors. In 2005, around 70% of roads were assessed as being an acceptable condition.
The commission's examination was a follow-up of its February 2011 report, which called for radical changes in the ways roads were repaired across Scotland.
Among its recommendations was that all local authorities should have a roads asset management plan in place by the end of 2011.
Today’s update found that only half of councils subsequently met this deadline, although all now had a plan in place.
Auditors also found that some town halls were taking action to improve value for money, by tendering joint repair contracts with other authorities and by introducing more efficient shift patterns in roads departments.
However, commission chair John Baillie said more needed to be done to improve the quality and monitoring of the individual plans, and the consistency of data used to judge value for money.
It recommended that councils should set milestones for local road improvement, so that local plans could be clearly monitored.
Authorities should also give more consideration to the options for shared services across the country.
Baillie said: ‘A well-maintained roads network is essential for all of us to get around in our daily lives and for economic prosperity.'
He added: ‘Tighter budgets mean councils have to make tough choices across the board but this is about making better use of the resources they already have. There is potential for better sharing of skills and resources, more effective planning at national and local level and more use of benchmarking to learn from best practice elsewhere.’
Responding to the report, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said councils had been ‘actively addressing the general condition of roads across Scotland despite reduced budgets over the past few years’.
Stephen Hagan, the group’s development, economy and sustainability spokesman, said the slight increase in road quality in 2010/11 showed this was having ‘clear results despite some recent harsh winters’.
He added: ‘Councils recognise the importance of the local road network as a vital asset in the lives of local communities and for local businesses. For these reasons and many others, Scottish councils continue to invest in maintaining and improving the Scottish road network.’