Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap: Government response to the Committee’s Tenth Report of Session 2017-19

Second Special Report

The Transport Committee published its Tenth Report of Session 2017–19, Local roads funding and maintenance: filling the gap, as HC 1486, on 1 July 2019. The Government response was received on 14 October 2019. The Committee’s recommendations are in bold text, followed by the response from the Government.

Appendix: Government Response

The Government welcomes the Transport Committee report on Local Roads Funding and Maintenance.

Since the Transport Committee report was published, the Department for Transport has been considering the recommendations made and has been working closely with the highways sector, including local highway authority sector groups to identify how to take forward the Committee’s recommendations.

The local highway network is the largest and most visible community asset for which local highway authorities are responsible. It is used daily by the majority of people and is fundamental to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the country. This asset is valued at £400 billion.

The local road network covers 183,507 miles. In England, outside London, local roads are managed by 119 local highway authorities. About 58% of local roads are rural, and approximately 42% are urban roads. These proportions vary by region and individual authority. There is a significant difference in the total road length that fall under the responsibility of local highway authorities. For example, there are nearly 8,000 miles of local roads in Devon, compared to 192 miles and 245 miles in Slough and Reading respectively.

Local highway authorities have a legal duty to maintain the highway under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980, as amended. It is for each authority to procure and decide on their maintenance regime based on their needs, priorities and funding. The Department for Transport provides both guidance and capital funding to highway authorities but does not intervene in the day to day management of highway maintenance service.

Highway authorities are responsible for not only repairing potholes but maintaining all assets, including bridges, retaining walls, tunnels, street lighting, street furniture, drainage, footways and cycleways, as well as winter service such as salt spreading. Asset management plans and strategies have now begun to transform how local highway authorities approach local roads maintenance. The introduction of incentive funding in England, outside London, has encouraged local highway authorities to plan their maintenance and the Government is now promoting the use of new innovative technology, data sources and tools to help improve how authorities and the wider sector, including contractors, can make investment and operational decisions, as well as how we better engage the road user.

As the Committee and those who provided evidence recognises, there is an acknowledged local highways maintenance backlog and following analysis by the Department for Transport in 2015 this is estimated to be ranging between £4.6 to £8.5 billion but with industry observers suggest that it could be as high as £9.0 to £12.0 billion. The Department is currently undertaking work with the sector to update this analysis ahead of the next Spending Review as part of a State of the Nation report.

The Committee made several specific recommendations which we now consider in detail.

The Road Network

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that the Government commission an independent review of local highway responsibilities, to evaluate whether current responsibilities sit at the right level. We recommend that the review be completed within 9 months and that the Government respond to it within 12 weeks, setting out what actions it will take as a result. (Paragraph 16)

Government Response:

The Government agrees that it is right to identify that there are multiple levels of accountability within local government. This was highlighted by some of the witnesses during the Inquiry as being seen to be complex and confusing. The Highways Act 1980 (as amended) is clear that highway authorities are accountable for maintaining the roads for which they are responsible. Indeed, we note the Committee recognises that “there was no agreement amongst the witnesses” about the governance arrangements.

The Department for Transport understands that The Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation is shortly to report following an independent review they have undertaken in respect of local highways maintenance and we understand this includes an assessment of local highway responsibilities and governance. The Government believes this may help address the concerns of the Committee and following the conclusion of the report, we will consider how to respond to the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation report and whether there is a need for a further independent review as recommended by the Committee.

Funding and Expenditure

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that the Department 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. We recommend the Treasury give the proposal serious consideration given that proactive maintenance provides better value for money than reactive maintenance. We consider it critical that the DfT engage with MHCLG to roll up the revenue support elements of roads funding into a five-year settlement. (Paragraph 63)

Government Response:

The Department for Transport continues to work closely with HM Treasury and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ensure that the priorities for funding for local highways maintenance are well understood, and this includes the benefits of a longer-term funding settlement for local highways maintenance.

As the then Minister of State for Transport informed the Committee, a long-term consistent funding certainty for local highways maintenance is important to ensure that highway authorities can make effective decisions and to seek efficiencies through the supply chain.

The Government is also of the view that improving and maintaining the condition of the local road network is not just about funding. It’s about efficiencies, collaborating better with neighbouring authorities, making sure the correct materials are used, using new technology and methods. It is also about highway authorities understanding the assets for which they are responsible and making sure they have robust data to plan their maintenance service properly.

The Department for Transport is currently working on developing a good evidence base to ensure it submits a strong business case to HM Treasury as part of a future Spending Review. As part of this we are also working closely with MHCLG regarding Revenue Support Grant as the Committee advises.

Transport Committee Recommendation—The DfT should take the lead on consulting with local authorities about the exact nature of a five-year settlement. This should include 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 important that innovation, collaboration and best practice are properly incentivised through any settlement; this should be part of any consultation. The DfT should also include London councils in the consultation to seek their views on whether the London funding settlement is fit for purpose. (Paragraph 64)

Government Response:

The Department for Transport will consult with local authorities regarding any future funding settlement for local highways maintenance funding as the Committee has recommended. We agree that it will be important to ensure that innovation, collaboration and best practice continues to be incentivised continuing what the Government is already doing through the existing local highways maintenance incentive element.

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that in its response to this Report the Department set out what borrowing against a multi-year settlement would mean for local authorities and how such a scheme could work. (Paragraph 65)

Government Response:

There is consensus about the need to invest in infrastructure, including local highways maintenance with a long-term perspective. In local highway authorities, highway maintenance is funded through a combination of capital and revenue funding. Capital funds come in part via the local highways maintenance block funding from central Government. In recent years, the funding we have allocated to local highway authorities for local highway maintenance has remained relatively stable, which has helped highway authorities to plan their longer-term maintenance programmes.

Revenue funding is made available to local highway authorities from Government and generally supports routine activities. Some authorities have adopted a policy of replacing some of their revenue budget with capital maintenance activities and, as we informed the Committee, we have been working with The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy to look at how authorities can capitalise revenue funded services. For example, pothole repair. It is our intention depending on the outcome of any future Spending Review settlement to encourage all highway authorities to consider this, as the then Minister suggested, during the oral evidence session to the Committee.

Some authorities currently set their capital budgets for two years or more, with indicative spend for two to three years thereafter. However, authorities can already borrow against their funding allocations to invest over a longer period for highways maintenance if they wish to do so. Indeed, the Department for Transport is aware of many authorities that supplement their local highway maintenance budgets with additional funding utilising initiatives such as invest to save, interest free loans through organisations, such as Salix, an independent public funding company, or through prudential borrowing. Where prudential borrowing has been used, it has provided an injection of capital funds to improve the condition of the local highway network.

The Government encourages all highway authorities to consider using the full range of tools available to them (including prudential borrowing) to invest further in their highway assets. It is important for local authorities to ensure that in developing a case for prudential borrowing, they determine a robust and affordable funding case based on asset management principles and having robust condition data available. Subject to the outcome of the Spending Review, a multi-year settlement could support prudential borrowing by providing local authorities with greater budget certainty.


Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend the DfT, BEIS and Innovate UK collaborate to collate all innovation funding for local roads in one place and effectively disseminate this to local highway authorities. 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 bidding process. We also recommend that the Government 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. (Paragraph 74)

Government Response:

The Government agrees with the Committee that it is prudent to establish, as far as commonly possible, methods guidelines to ensure that highway authorities can marshal their resources effectively in relation to innovation. We have approached Innovate UK and BEIS to establish how they can support the assimilation of research of local roads maintenance and how Government can best disseminate results of research in the future.

The Department for Transport continues to actively work with various groups, including Connected Places Catapult (which is overseen by Innovate UK), GO-Science and other sector organisations such as the Local Condition Road Innovation Group, The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport and the UK Roads Liaison Group to undertake innovation, research and other technological trials.

The Government announced at the end of January 2019 that it would be funding £23 million for research and trials on new surface materials or pothole repair techniques as part of the live lab road trials on the local road network. These trials are a collaboration between public and private sector and we have arrangements in place to ensure that all highway authorities receive information at certain milestones as the trials progress. We are also working closely with academia as part of the evaluation.

At the end of July 2019, we announced that the Department would also be undertaking a health-check, in close partnership with the Local Condition Roads Innovation Group (LCRIG) and Gaist, to use machine learning AI technology to review close to 150 million high definition (HD) images of the local road network looking at road markings, footways and sections of the National Cycle Network. This analysis will help provide a clear assessment of where investment by councils could be utilised and will also provide robust evidence to help us make a clear case for additional maintenance funding as part of any forthcoming Spending Review as the Committee also suggested.

The Department for Transport more recently launched a competition working with Connected Places Catapult as part of our Transport Technology Research Innovation Grant programme. This programme seeks bids for early stage, proof-of-concept in transport innovation, where small investments can help de-risk emerging solutions. We are seeking bids from organisations with respect to pothole repair and resilient infrastructure.

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that DfT produce a report, within 12 months of the hub going live, that assesses the costs and benefits of the new digital hub. (Paragraph 75)

Government Response:

The Digital Innovation Brokerage Hub is being managed by Atkins (part of SNC Lavalin). The Government accepts the recommendation and will request a report from Atkins within 12 months of the Hub going live to assess the benefits and outcomes. This report will be published on the Department for Transport website.

The Hub was launched at the end of March 2019 and is a new and innovative approach to accelerate research and development by encouraging SME involvement in the highways sector.

The main objective of the Hub is to encourage technological and product innovation from SMEs to help define and address the most complex challenges in any sector, and has been proven in the Water industry. The Digital Intelligent Brokerage does this by lowering the barriers to entry for SMEs, from a wide range of industries, using sophisticated problem re-definition and an innovative online gateway. Enhanced outcomes are then achieved for each complex challenge by accessing diverse solutions, often resulting in unexpected but beneficial results.

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that the Department set out a timeline to show their expectation of how connected and autonomous vehicle technologies will evolve and enter service. This should include the Research and Development, setting of standards, procurement and deployment of infrastructure on roads needed to support CAVs, maintenance and management of such infrastructure through its lifecycle and showing how additional technology deployed in the roadway affects maintenance and renewal processes. This could be a useful supplement to the Department’s ongoing work around the Future of Mobility. (Paragraph 76)

Government Response:

The timescales for the adoption of connected and automated vehicles are uncertain, given the diverse range of enablers that need to be in place before the technology can be deployed at scale. Setting out a detailed timeline as the Committee has suggested at this stage is premature given how likely it is that this would be quickly overtaken by events.

The Future of Urban Mobility Strategy, published in March 2019, set out the trends that Government thinks are important to the future of transport, alongside a set of Principles that will underpin the Government’s approach to emerging transport technologies and services that are robust to a range of different technology scenarios. Alongside this the Government has supported work by industry to establish an illustrative roadmap for progress in the development of connected and automated vehicles to aid collaboration. The recent “UK Connected and Automated Mobility Roadmap to 2030”, produced by Zenzic, sets out a consensus view among industry stakeholders of the possible timeline for the enablers for this technology, including an assessment of the necessary regulatory, technology and infrastructure enablers.

Data Collection and Use

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that, given the previous Minister’s concerns about whether third party data is reliable, the DfT conduct an analysis of the merits of collecting richer data from local authorities and what cost this would represent to the taxpayer. (Paragraph 93)

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Department explain 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. (Paragraph 94)

Government Response:

The Government accepts these recommendations and, as announced previously, we will be undertaking a review into the technology and data required to develop the best insight at both a national and local level of condition of our highways. As part of this review, the Government will consider whether we should be collecting condition information on wider road infrastructure, including bridges, structures, and lighting.

As the Committee will know, the Department for Transport currently publishes annual statistics on road conditions in England, with comparable data available back to 2007/08. To produce these national estimates, local authorities are required to submit aggregate data about the condition of their roads to the Department.

The surface condition of local ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads in England is measured using the long-established SCANNER (Surface Condition Assessment for the National Network of Roads) technology, which was adapted from the TRACS (TRAffic-speed Condition Survey) technology used to measure surface condition of Highways England managed roads. This involves a specially adapted vehicle driving the network, with lasers and video equipment measuring a range of parameters, such as cracking of the road, and rutting. SCANNER surveys produce a range of highly detailed data, which can be used by local authorities to inform their asset management plans.

Many of the parameters collected by SCANNER surveys are combined to give the ‘Road Condition Indicator’ (RCI), a standardised overall score indicating the surface condition of each section of road. Based on the RCI score, the condition of each stretch of road can be split into three categories (red, amber and green). Currently, local highways authorities are required to report the proportion of their classified ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads that are categorised as red (‘should have been considered for maintenance’) to the Department, which is the headline measure in the annual statistical release. Higher scores indicate poorer road condition.

The Department is aware that there is further potential in utilising the data collected by SCANNER. This year, alongside the mandatory data collection, the Department asked local authorities to report amber and green data on an optional basis. In our most recent publication (3 October 2019), the Department published this data as ‘Experimental Statistics’ for local authority managed ‘A’ roads. In 2018/19, 3% of this network was categorised as red, 23% amber and 74% green, based on data returns from over 90% of local highway authorities in England. We have also sought local authorities’ consent for access to their underlying data held by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) (the auditors).

The SCANNER machines used to carry out the surveys on classified ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ roads, along with the data collected, are quality assured and standardised to ensure consistency of measurement. Both UK Pavement Management System (UKPMS) and TRL are responsible for regulating how road condition data are collected and processed for national reporting and asset management. The Department also undertakes automated validation of the data inputted by local authorities through the online web based survey and manual validation of the returns that are submitted.

The role of UKPMS is to help standardise the collection and processing of road condition data to help deliver consistent reporting but also to allow local authorities to optimise their resources for maintenance planning. TRL audit the automated SCANNER surveys carried out by the survey contractors that local authorities choose to use. They accredit the survey vehicles that the contractors operate, and provide independent quality assurance of the road condition data they collect. They undertake tests to ensure that all survey machines fall within agreed tolerances.

TRL also supports local authorities with any issues that arise during the data collection, and supports DfT in identifying the potential reasons behind any anomalies in the data. They have also undertaken government funded research throughout 2016/17 that has looked to exploit the development capabilities from advancements in SCANNER technology over the past decade, which has included addressing consistency problems with the data. The changes implemented have assisted in managing, and minimising, the consistency issues identified with certain vehicles in 2017 and 2018, and work is ongoing to determine how further consistency improvements could be achieved.

The consistent collection of road condition data on classified roads allows for benchmarking of results across different local authorities and serves different user needs, including:

There is currently no requirement for local highway authorities to report on the condition of unclassified roads, or to collect data in a specific way. However, many authorities do provide data to the Department, which is then published in the statistical release. The Department asks authorities to confirm the method used to monitor unclassified roads, and reports this in the published statistics, advising caution when making comparisons. The method used appears to affect the results, with visual surveys generally indicating worse network condition than automated surveys. Although some authorities do use SCANNER to collect data on their unclassified roads, many do not. The most common method is visual surveys, with over 70% of local highway authorities who returned valid data in 2018/19 using solely this type.

There are other technologies that are starting to emerge which can monitor and measure road condition, including the technology that Gaist highlighted during the Committee Inquiry. We know that some local authorities are using alternative technologies alongside SCANNER surveys, and a small number have stopped running SCANNER surveys all together, opting for an alternative method. We are also aware of other new methods such as dashcam, mobile phone measurements and even drone technology to assess the condition. That is why it was announced earlier this year the Department for Transport would undertake a review of what technology and data is required going forward so we can understand not only the condition of our highways but wider road infrastructure including whether we should be collecting condition information regarding bridges, structures, and even lighting. The review will be initiated shortly and the Department for Transport will analyse the responses received as the Committee has recommended.

Transport Committee Response—We recommend that DfT run 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. It could be searchable by factors such as council, constituency and postcode. It could also be used by councils to monitor their own performance and to generate data to allow them to benchmark on a time or geographical basis. (Paragraph 95)

Government Response:

Providing good quality information to the public on what can be expected in terms of reporting and repairing potholes is an important aspect of customer service and the Government therefore welcomes the Committee’s recommendation on this. There are already an increasing number of websites that encourage reporting of potholes by the public and which have helped to raise the profile of potholes and repairs such as www.fillthathole.org.uk, www.fixmystreet.co.uk and www.potholes.co.uk.

Research undertaken in 2012 suggested that around 30 per cent of defects are reported by the public, but this varied according to locality. However, it should be highlighted most authorities now provide reporting facilities through their authority website, as well as via email, telephone and customer service desk options to allow the public to report defects easily. The Department for Transport in 2013 provided funding to Cycling UK to help enable cyclists and other users to inform councils of potholes or other defects so they could take action as required.

Taking on board the recommendation by the Committee, the Department for Transport will now work with the UK Roads Liaison Group, UK Roads Board, and the Local Councils Road Innovation Group to investigate further how such a platform as the Committee has recommended can be developed.

Good practice and collaboration in highway maintenance

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that the Department continue to monitor the move to a risk-based approach. 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. (Paragraph 110)

Government Response:

The Government accepts the recommendation by the Committee. Working with the UK Roads Liaison Group, the Department for Transport will report by the end of 2021 on what effect the risk based approach has had on local highway authorities and whether it has improved their efficiency and effectiveness.

The UK Roads Liaison Group in collaboration with the Department for Transport and other sector groups, undertook a review of the various Codes of Practices in 2016 which led to a new Code of Practice being published.

This Code titled, ‘Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure’, comprises an overarching document covering highways, lighting and structures. The Code is intended to apply throughout the United Kingdom. Production of the Code was overseen by the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG) and its associated Roads, Bridges and Lighting Boards, as well as other sector groups. It is recognised that there are differences in approach to some matters in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are not always detailed in the Code, but general principles are set out.

The Code is designed to promote the adoption of an integrated asset management approach to highway infrastructure based on the establishment of local levels of service through a risk-based assessment. It also includes guidance on some additional topics. The Code was produced as a single document to emphasise the integrated approach to highway network infrastructure assets.

The Code does not prescribe any minimum or default standards but includes guidance and advice to support development of local levels of service. The Code is guidance and not mandatory on authorities.

However, it was advised that authorities had until October 2018 to adopt a new risk-based approach. The Department for Transport through UK Roads Liaison Group has monitored the progress of this. We are also aware of the recent analysis undertaken by the RAC Foundation published in December 2018 in which they had highlighted that 142 (75%) of the 190 (out of 207) local highway authorities in Great Britain whom supplied information to the Foundation now predominantly follow a risk based approach. They also highlighted that a further 15 (8%) indicated that their current approach was under review or that they were planning to soon switch to a risk based approach in the near future.

Transport Committee Recommendation—We recommend that the DfT set clear goals for what it wants the guide and the group to achieve. It should set and publish measurable targets. Within 12 months of the publication of the guide and the establishment of the group, the Department should report on the effectiveness of the guide and group, how they have performed against the goals and targets initially set out for them, and what they have achieved. (Paragraph 112)

Government Response:

The Government accepts the recommendation by the Committee. The Government also welcomes the acknowledgment by the Committee in relation to the Department for Transport’s announcement of 31 March 2019 in which it published a new guide on best practice in pothole repair. The guide was developed with the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport and the establishment of a ‘Review and Audit Group’, in liaison with the highways sector, to support the adoption of good practice.

The Department agrees with the Committee’s observation that whilst highway authorities and the wider sector are developing good practice in highway survey and maintenance, that it is not always being shared as much as it could across authorities or highway alliances. As we have addressed earlier with respect to an earlier recommendation regarding innovation and technology, we will ensure that this Group also considers how best to achieve these objectives.

Finally, whilst it will continue to be for each authority to procure and decide on their maintenance regime based on their needs, priorities and funding, the Department for Transport will ensure that we report on the effectiveness of the guide and group as recommended.

Department for Transport

October 2019

Published: 28 October 2019