Conclusions and Recommendations |
1. The strategic and local road networks are
England's most valuable infrastructure asset. They are valued
at approximately £344 billion, and are made up of roads and
other infrastructure such as bridges, embankments and drainage
systems. The Highways Agency, which is an executive agency of
the Department, is responsible for maintaining the strategic road
network (4,400 miles), which includes almost all of England's
motorways and its most important 'A' roads. The remaining local
roads (183,000 miles) are maintained by 152 local highway authorities.
In 2012-13 public spending on maintaining England's roads was
£4 billion; of which the Agency spent £720 million (capital
and revenue) and the Department provided £779 million capital
for local highway authorities' road maintenance. The remainder
was paid for from local authorities' other resources.
2. The Department's unpredictable and fluctuating
budgets for road maintenance over decades
have put value for money at risk. Following the Spending Review
2010, the Department cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2
billion over the four years from April 2011. Since then it has
intermittently made available a total of £1.1 billion additional
funding on nine separate occasions for various reasons, including
in response to flooding or winter damage to the roads. Infrastructure
UK has reported that savings of 10-20% are associated with certainty
of funding. It costs £52 to fill in a pothole (or £70
in London), yet it cost £31.6 million in 2013/14 to pay and
process compensation claims from road users for damages arising
from poor road conditions. The Department is taking steps to make
its funding more certain in the future. It is in the process of
changing the Agency's status to a limited company, with funding
settlements of at least five-years and it has set out its capital
allocation for local road maintenance: £976 million a year
for the six years from April 2015.
- The Department should hold the new Highways
Agency to account for delivering the improved value for money
that should be achievable given the certainty that will be provided
by the planned funding reforms.
- The Department should keep to the long-term
budget allocations it has set out for local highway authorities
to enable them and the supply chain to plan ahead confidently
3. The Department has promoted best practice
in local road maintenance but performance still varies locally.
The Department is funding a Highways Maintenance Efficiency
Programme, which reinforces the need for authorities to plan long-term
preventative maintenance based on good information on the condition
of the infrastructure. The Department also encourages collaboration
between highway authorities. Two thirds of local highway authorities
have formed alliances with other authorities which has reduced
their costs. However, not all local authorities have adopted good
practice and the Programme is not sufficiently targeted at assisting
poor performing authorities. For example, 45 local highway authorities
had not completed an asset management plan setting out the state
of their roads. Public satisfaction with the condition of roads
and the speed and quality of repairs stands at the lowest level
since the survey began in 2008.
most effective way in which the Department can influence practice
is through its funding of road maintenance. The Department should
use the way it allocates its funding to incentivise efficiency
and collaboration and it should not fund poor performance.
Department should identify those local highway authorities that
carry out maintenance less efficiently and target the Highways
Maintenance Efficiency Programme at them.
4. A lack of information and understanding
of road infrastructure and the costs of maintenance hinders decision-making
on when and where it is best to spend the money. A good understanding
of the state of the roads is absolutely essential for planning
cost-effective preventative maintenance. Yet the Agency holds
no information on 70% of its drainage systems. There are too many
gaps in highways authorities' information about what road infrastructure
assets they have and what condition they are in; and there is
an inadequate understanding of how different types of infrastructure
(apart from road surfaces) deteriorate over time. Some highways
authorities have taken steps to improve their information but
further work is needed.
Department should work with local highway authorities to ensure
that they all develop appropriate data and understanding of their
Agency should also improve its understanding of its road infrastructure,
how this deteriorates over time and the costs of maintenance interventions.
5. Whilst we understand the unpredictable
nature of winter weather, too much road maintenance is inefficient
because it is reactive and unplanned. At present too much
road maintenance is carried out in the winter months between December
and March at the end of the financial year. The Highways Agency
spent 3% of its maintenance budget in April 2013 and 21% the following
March. Concentrating activity in a few months and doing the work
in the winter is inefficient and costly. Long-term programmes
of preventative work are the most efficient way of maintaining
road infrastructure. While there will always be a need to perform
some emergency and reactive maintenance, highways authorities
need to plan and prioritise their maintenance activities over
the whole life of their road infrastructure assets to get best
value for money. Some local highway authorities have built up
their information and understanding so they can plan and prioritise
work efficiently, but others are still far too reactive to events,
rather than anticipating, predicting and preventing disrepair.
In addition, the Department and the Agency recognise the need
for a more even spread of maintenance work across the year.
Department should ensure that Government funding promotes and
supports the more even spread of expenditure over the year, with
work carried out during the time when costs can be minimised.
Highways Agency should develop longer-term plans for preventative
maintenance and streamline its annual planning process to spread
work more evenly across the year.
Department should use the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme
to help local authorities quantify the benefits of more preventative
work and to anticipate problems rather than react to them.
6. 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.
Essential routine maintenance activities such as inspections,
clearing drains and winter gritting can only be paid for from
revenue funds. Maintaining good drainage, in particular, is vital
to reducing flooding as well as preventing costly damage to road
infrastructure from water penetration. The Agency's revenue spending
was 29% lower in 2012-13 than it was in 2010-11. Although local
authorities' capital funding has increased slightly, their revenue
funding from central government reduced by around a third over
the four years of the 2010 spending review, and it is set to fall
by a further 10% from 2015-16 to 2020-21.
Department should ensure the Highways Agency has the right balance
of revenue and capital funding to enable it to carry out essential
routine maintenance activities.
Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and
Local Government should examine the cumulative impact of their
combined funding decisions on local authorities' road maintenance,
and they should adjust their approach accordingly to support essential
routine road maintenance activities.
1 C&AG's Report, Management of Road Maintenance,
HC 438, Session 1990-91, 15 May 1991; C&AG's Report, Maintaining England's Motorways and Trunk roads, HC 431,
Session 2002-03, 5 March 2003, Figure 10, p 23; C&AG's Report, Funding for local transport: an overview, HC 629,
Session 2012-13, 25 October 2012, Paras 8, 1.15-1.17