William Eichler 08 July 2019

Funding cuts could have paid for eight million pothole repairs, council chiefs say

Council leaders have called on the Government to fund road repairs after calculating that money cut from road funding budgets over the last decade could have paid for millions of pothole repairs.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has published figures showing that the amount of money councils have been able to spend on routine road maintenance has fallen from £1.1bn in 2009/10 to around £701m in 2017/18 – a 37% reduction.

Routine road maintenance includes minor road repairs such as potholes, cleaning drains, inspection and fixing street lighting.

The LGA estimates that this reduction could have covered the cost of repairing 7.8 million potholes.

‘Councils are on the side of the motorist, and are doing all they can to keep our roads safe and resilient, repairing potholes as quickly as they can,’ said LGA’s Transport spokesman, Cllr Martin Tett.

‘But unprecedented funding cuts have meant councils are increasingly limited in how much they can invest in looking after our country’s roads.’

The Government spends 43 times per mile more on maintaining national roads than on local roads. The latter are controlled by councils and make up 97% of England’s road network.

Local authorities received a one-off £420m funding boost to help fix local roads in last year’s budget. The LGA calculates, however, that councils need more than £9bn and a decade to tackle the road repairs backlog.

‘While the extra one-off funding announced in recent years has helped, we need Government to follow with a long-term funding plan to save our roads in the Spending Review,’ said Cllr Tett.

A report published by the Transport Select Committee last week warned that councils are being forced to take short-term, reactive decisions on road maintenance. It said this did not provide value for money.

Councils have lost 60p out of every £1 in central Government funding between 2010 and 2020, which has meant that cash that should be used to fix roads is being diverted to pay for core services.

‘Local authorities are in the invidious position of having to rob Peter to pay Paul. Cash-strapped councils are raiding their highways and transport budgets to fund core services,’ said the committee chair, Lilian Greenwood.

‘This is not an isolated example – it’s been a common thread in our other recent inquiries on buses and active travel.

‘Now is the time for the Department to propose a front-loaded, long-term funding settlement to the Treasury as part of the forthcoming Spending Review.’

A Government spokesperson said: ‘We know potholes are a nuisance and a hazard for all road users, particularly for cyclists and motorcyclists.

‘To improve local roads we are providing councils with £6.6bn between 2015 and 2020, which includes more than £700m for extra maintenance.

‘We are also investing in trials on new road materials and repair techniques as well as using technologies to help councils predict when roads will need repairs and prevent potholes.’

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