Localism approach to road safety is failing, says report
An inconsistent approach to road safety at local level means the Government must show stronger leadership to stop the rising number of casualties, a cross-party of MPs said today.
Just weeks after official figures were published showing the first rise in annual road fatalities for a decade, the transport select committee has published a damning report suggesting the localism agenda cannot keep road users safe in the current economic climate.
When the coalition came to power in 2010 it cut road safety grants and removed the ring-fencing of funding, which the MPs suggest ‘means funding for road safety measures cannot be guaranteed during competition for resources’.
The Government’s strategic framework for road safety, published in May 2011, stated ministers’ intention to give councils the freedom to tackle problems on local networks without ‘dictating specific solutions’.
But the committee’s inquiry on road safety found ‘considerable variation’ among local authority performance. The report recognises there are some examples of good practice but raises concerns about councils, which have continually failed to improve road safety in recent years.
The Department for Transport will update its strategy in September. Road safety minister, Mike Penning, said the department would publish guidance in September and share best practise through an online portal for road safety professionals. While the MPs welcome this development they suggest merely providing guidance will limit the Department for Transport to a ‘passive role’ and claim September’s update should be seized as an opportunity to completely reassess policies.
‘Under conditions of reduced local authority resources and loss of skilled road safety personnel, the Government should not sit back and expect road safety to remain a priority,’ the report says. ‘Stronger leadership and a clearer vision are required from government to communicate the importance of road safety to local decision makers.’
Mr Penning has vowed to name and shame the worst performing authorities, but the committee points out there had been little evidence of this plan so far.
Responding to the report, the Local Government Association (LGA) defended councils and blamed cuts to highways budgets for putting a squeeze on road safety initiatives.
Cllr Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s economy and transport board, said: ‘Collating and sharing best practice between local authorities will be vital in the years ahead and hopefully by learning from each other we can return to reducing the number of people killed or injured on our roads every year.
‘A retrograde step to centrally-set targets is not the answer and decisions on road safety need to remain with local highways managers who know their roads, not civil servants hundreds of miles away in Whitehall.’
Cllr Box called on ministers to give councils civil enforcement powers – under Part Six of the Traffic Management Act – to clamp down on violations in cycle and bus lanes or at traffic lights and junctions.
Maria Eagle, Labour's shadow transport secretary, said: ‘The first increase in the number of deaths and serious injuries on Britain’s roads since 2003 should be a wake-up call to Ministers that their do nothing hands-off approach to improving road safety must come to an end.’
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