10th Report - Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap Contents

Summary

Local roads are the arteries of prosperous and vibrant villages, towns and cities: they are critical to the movement of goods as well as helping people to get around. However, many people will not have to travel further than their local shops to see an extreme state of disrepair.

This plague of potholes is a major headache for everyone. The consequences of a deteriorating local road network are significant. It undermines local economic performance and results in direct costs to taxpayers—either through rising costs of deferred work or through a mend and make do approach that does not represent good value for money in the long-term. It also affects motorists—damaging vehicles—and causes injuries to passengers, particularly those with existing medical conditions.

The safety of other road users, especially cyclists, is seriously compromised. Pedestrians, particularly those who are older or vulnerable, can be left feeling anxious and isolated, afraid to leave their own homes.

Our inquiry into local roads funding and maintenance looked at these issues in detail and this Report makes recommendations to address the problems and put them right.

Funding

It is clear to us that the key issue is funding—there is not enough of it and what there is is not allocated efficiently or effectively. Local government revenue funding has fallen by about 25% since 2010. The allocation within it for local roads is not ring-fenced and is often used by councils to plug gaps in other budgets. Capital funding—through the Pothole Action Fund and other pots—is sporadic and time-limited. This lack of funding certainty has caused many councils to take short-term, reactive decisions on road maintenance, which is more expensive and less effective than proactive maintenance that can be planned well in advance and the cost spread out over a number of years.

To tackle this problem the Department for Transport should propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review so that local authorities can address the historic road maintenance backlog and plan confidently for the future. However, we are clear that this must not be an excuse for a budget cut. This settlement should not only include capital pots but should also roll up the revenue support elements of roads funding, administered by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, into a five-year settlement.

The exact nature of the settlement should be determined in consultation with local authorities. They should be consulted about whether they would like to see a ‘totex’ allocation (i.e. funding that can be spent on capital or revenue, with no restrictions) and whether they want it to be ring-fenced for spending only on roads. It is also important that innovation, collaboration and good practice are properly incentivised through any settlement.

Other issues

There are three further issues—linked to funding—that we consider in this Report: innovation, data collection and use and good practice and collaboration in highway management.





Published: 1 July 2019