Road Safety - Transport Committee Contents

3  Localism

Role of localism

14.  Localism is a key theme of the Government's road safety strategy. The Government believes that decentralisation will "create more room for local flexibility and innovation" by "decentralising funding" and removing targets.[39] Mike Penning MP argued in favour of such an approach as follows:

Local communities are much more responsible in driving the agenda forward in their areas. They know their roads and their communities better than we in central Government do, but we will give them all the help we can. As you said, the money was hypothecated or ring-fenced into set areas before, but we have now removed that. I am very pleased that we did so, because it has allowed the local authorities to start thinking out of the box and not say, "The only way to do this is x", normally with cameras, but look at other options as well.[40]

In order to support local authorities in road safety delivery, the Government will provide a "local comparison website and the Road Safety Observatory Portal for professionals, which are both under development".[41]

Local authority performance

15.  Local authority road safety performance is variable. As figure 2 illustrates, there is no clear pattern in their performance (figure 2). The Government states that its casualty reduction forecasts "can be achieved with the variation in performances at the local authority level narrowing and moving towards the level of the top performers".[42] Figure 2, reported road KSI casualties by local authority area.

16.  Local authorities have also had variable levels of success in reducing casualties (table 2).Table 2 KSI road casualties by local authority area - the best and worst performing local authorities, comparing the 1994-98 average with 2006-10 average.[43]

% reduction comparing 1994-98 average with 2006-2010 average
Top Bottom
Halton70 East Susssex19
Coventry66 Bury18
Telford & Wrekin 65Southhampton 17
Blackpool63 Bristol16
Barking & Dagenham 63Calderdale 14
Shropshire62 Brighton & Hove 11
Brent60 Redcar & Cleveland 8
Hillingdon60 Bournemouth3
Doncaster 0

Mr Penning told us that he believes some local authorities are lagging behind in their progress as a result of not adopting best practice:

I am also aware that other local authorities [...] no matter what target was set, have just ignored it. It is not because they do not want to improve things, but, frankly, the best practice just has not got through. We need to push out best practice from places such as Halton. Also, if we believe in local democracy, how can you live in a community where a local authority is not promoting road safety in the way that other areas are? It is not about money. In most cases, it is about mindset and priorities.[44]

Local authority resources

17.  Road safety resources at a local level have come under a number of pressures. There have been cuts to capital elements of road safety grants and road safety funding is no longer ring-fenced.[45] This means funding for road safety measures cannot be guaranteed during competition for resources.[46] In addition, there are other pressures on local authority funding from wider Government funding cuts.[47] Several witnesses linked reductions in local authority resources to loss of road safety provision. The Institute of Advanced Motoring believes road safety is facing greater cuts than other policy areas at a local authority level[48] and told us that:

Road safety is already suffering because of this perception that we do not have targets and perhaps, if cuts have to be made, they can be made in this easy area. We do need that leadership from central Government to make sure the local authorities know that this is an important area. [...]. We are seeing a lot of redundancies, and a lot of people with many years' experience are leaving their local authorities because they are closing road safety units. It is not universal. Some authorities are good. The Government struggle to highlight those authorities where there is best practice.[49] [...] What we are seeing is that the rate of cuts for road safety and the road safety education heading are higher. They are about 19% compared to an overall 9% cut in local authority spending.[50]

The damage arising from loss of funds was echoed by local authorities.[51]

One of the benefits of the road safety grant that went was that it was ring-fenced for use in road safety activity. Now that it has been rolled into the local government formula grant settlement, it is far harder to make the argument with financial officers and politicians about the value of road safety that may or may not happen when you are arguing against social services, libraries, culture, old people and young people.[52]

Local authorities also commented on the loss of skills.[53] For example:

In three out of the four authorities in South Yorkshire there is nobody left now with road safety officer experience. If you look back to Local Government Association guidance on best practice for the number of road safety officers per authority, the guidance is one road safety officer per 50,000 population. It means that we are something like 10 road safety officers short on those guidelines because of what my colleagues said about voluntary early severance, part-time working and a lack of recruitment.[54]

There is a risk that decentralisation of responsibility for road safety could lead to further variability in performance, depending on the resources provided for road safety at a local level.[55] As part of its evaluation of the Strategic Framework for Road Safety, the Government should publish an analysis of the resources used for road safety at a local level to highlight best practice by local authorities, in particular noting innovative practices and multi-agency approaches to achieving road safety goals.

Role of central Government

18.   If the Government wants the UK to remain a world leader in road safety, continued efforts in this field must be maintained. The Government expressed its desire to share best practice to encourage local authorities to improve road safety in their areas. It is producing guidance for local authorities to help achieve this. However, it is unclear to us what levers the Government can use if local authorities choose not to prioritise road safety, particularly given the funding pressures at play. Whilst we welcome the promised guidance to help local authorities, guidance will not necessarily lead to action, especially if the skills and resources to put the guidance into practice are not available at a local level. The Government should not passively expect road safety to remain a priority. Mr Penning told us that he plans to "name and shame" worst performing local authorities,[56] but this proposition is not contained in the Strategic Framework. The Government should explain how it intends to measure which are the worst performing local authorities and how it expects "naming and shaming" them will improve their performance.

39   Strategic Framework p8 Back

40   Q 332 Back

41   Ev 86 para 9 Back

42   Strategic Framework p67 Back

43   Local Transport Today, LTT 582, 21 October - 3 November 2011 Back

44   Q 341 Back

45   Local transport governance and finance in England 2010 , Library Standard Note, SN/BT/5735 Back

46   Ev 117 para 2.4, Ev w65 para 2.10, Ev w6 para 3.4, Ev w19 para 3.2, Ev w22 para 2, Ev w57 para 1.4 Back

47   Ev 107 para 2.6 Back

48   Ev 90 para 3.4 Back

49   Q 14 Back

50   Q 15 Back

51   Q 155 Nick Clennett Back

52   Q 155 Ken Wheat Back

53   Q 156 Back

54   Q 157 Ken Wheat Back

55   Ev w71 para 4.1 Back

56   Q 372 Back

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Prepared 18 July 2012