PAC criticises ‘stop-go’ road maintenance funding

24 Sep 14
Stop-go funding deals for road repairs have made it difficult for local authorities to maintain roads cost-effectively and has put value for money at risk, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.


By Richard Johnstone | 25 September 2014

Stop-go funding deals for road repairs have made it difficult for local authorities to maintain roads cost-effectively and has put value for money at risk, the Public Accounts Committee has warned.

Councils are to receive an extra £140m to repair roads damaged by this winter’s severe weather, but local authorities warned the money would not be enough to cover the maintenance bill.

Examining the Department for Transport’s funding for road maintenance, MPs said there had been far too much reactive funding offered in response to flooding and other events and not enough on preventative work, which is less expensive in the long term.

Overall, roads in England are valued at approximately £344bn, and are maintained by the Highways Agency – responsible for the 4,400-mile trunk road network – and local authorities, who look after the remaining 183,000 miles.

In the 2012/13 financial year, public spending on maintaining England’s roads was £4bn, of which the agency spent £720m and the department provided £779m in capital allocations to local authorities.

However, PAC chair Margaret Hodge said it was ‘ludicrous’ that in 2010 the DfT cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2bn over the four years from April 2011, but then intermittently gave £1.1bn in additional funding on nine separate occasions following flooding and other emergencies.

‘The department must see that prevention is better than cure,’ she added.

‘It costs £52 to fill in a pothole, or £70 in London, yet it costs over £30m to pay and process compensation claims from road users for damages arising from poor road conditions.’

A study by the government’s Infrastructure UK body has found that savings of between 10% and 20% could be made with more funding certainty, so better planning could release savings, particularly in winter, Hodge said.

‘Whilst we understand the unpredictable nature of winter weather, too much road maintenance is inefficient because it is reactive and unplanned. Concentrating activity in the winter months is inefficient and costly. Some local highway authorities are far too reactive to events, rather than anticipating, predicting and preventing disrepair.

‘Routine maintenance is essential to deal with increasingly frequent severe weather and to prevent long-term damage to infrastructure, but a fall in the proportion of revenue funding to capital funding risks a reduction in this type of maintenance.’

Today’s Maintaining strategic infrastructure: roads report also found better planning of funding needed to be matched with better information about the state of roads.

Some local highway authorities have built up their information and understanding so they can plan and prioritise work efficiently, but many others are still mainly responding to events, rather than anticipating and preventing disrepair.

In addition, the Highways Agency must use its new four-year funding settlements to improve its understanding of its road infrastructure, how this deteriorates over time and develop longer-term plans for prevention.

 

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