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.
Figure 1: Cost of filling potholes, 2010-19 (£ per pothole)
The safety of other road users, particularly 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.
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.
Figure 2: Road maintenance expenditure by road class in England (£million in 2017/18
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.
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.
Innovation is essential if the efficiency and effectiveness of local road maintenance is to continue to
improve, which it must in the face of limited funding. It is right that the Government stimulates and
encourages innovation but the value for money of any investment in innovation is only properly repaid when
new technologies, ideas and ways of working are scaled up and available to all.
In order to achieve this the Department for Transport, the Department for Business, Energy and
Industrial Strategy and Innovate UK should work together to collate all innovation funding for local roads
in one place.
They should establish as far as possible common rules for bidding and assessment to allow local
authorities to marshal their resources effectively and achieve efficiencies and economies of scale in the
The Government should also consider how it monitors the innovations it funds and what it needs to do to
ensure that a greater proportion of innovations are made available on the widest possible basis.
Local authorities will only be able to make better use of available funds for road maintenance if they
can target such funding well; this requires good data. DfT publishes basic headline data on road
condition. While this is a useful tool to compare a single data set over time, it is limited in scope and
detail and does not provide the depth of information given in some third-party condition surveys.
Data collection and use
The DfT needs to be clear about whether the data it receives from local authorities on road condition is
consistent and allows valid comparisons to be made, what it does with such data, how it is analysed and
what action is taken on the back of conclusions that it draws.
It should also make it easier for the public to report road condition concerns and access local
authority road condition data. The Department for Transport should take the lead on this by running an
innovation competition to develop a platform that the public can use to make online reports about road
condition direct to the relevant council and access real-time local road condition data.
Good practice and collaboration in highway management
Making the best use of available funding requires the sharing and adoption of good practice in road
maintenance. This is a key role for Government. The Department for Transport must monitor the move to a
new risk-based approach and by the end of 2021 it should publish a report setting out what effect the
risk-based approach has had, how local authorities have adapted and adjusted and whether it has improved
their efficiency and effectiveness.
Local councils and industry are developing good practice in highway survey and maintenance. However,
from the evidence we have received it is not always clear that this is being widely shared. We welcome the
improvements made by regional highway alliances, but we think this should be taken further.
Where alliances are developing their own good practice, they should be sharing this and benchmarking it
against one another. The Department for Transport could do more to facilitate this, for example by
providing a virtual good practice toolkit and repository so that councils across England can find examples
of good practice.