While only top slicing around 10% of capital funding this parliament (£578m), the highways self-assessment process lays the foundation for a new type of funding model for local maintenance - one based firmly on asset management, clear communication with stakeholders and life-cycle planning.
In short, now we have it, it looks like it’s here to stay, as it’s difficult to imagine any politician asking for less evidence of value for money.
Durham CC and Lincolnshire CC are the only two highways authorities to achieve the top Band 3 status irrespective of any devolution deal. Durham has a capital budget for 2016-17 of roughly £19m and a revenue budget of £8m, with a local road network of around 3,599km. John Reed, head of technical services at Durham, explains how his local authority reached the top.
'We found many of the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) products useful. The LEAN toolkit was very helpful. One of the big things we achieved was leading the development of the North East Highways Alliance, and we received good support from HMEP to do that.
'That has really helped promote and increase the collaborative working among all the authorities in the North East. Through the alliance we have a mutual assistance agreement where we share spare works capacity with other councils, which also really helps.
Mike Coates, highways assessment and Lincolnshire Laboratory manager, says his council has a capitalised maintenance allocation of £31m, plus £1.8m from the pothole fund. Lincolnshire has a local road network of around 8,839km.
He explains the decision-making process behind the council's highways maintenance: 'Our scheme prioritisation is data-led using a combination of SCANNER, SCRIM and Deflectograph for the hierarchy 1 and 2 network and a combination of SCANNER/CVI and local service/safety inspections for the remaining network.
'In recent years we have transferred the balance between reactive and planned maintenance and generally now spend between 10% and 15% of our carriageway and footway budgets on reactive maintenance. Last year the figure was 11% and we are planning for a similar figure in this financial year.'
The majority of councils are in Band 2, although many authorities that are part of combined authority groupings were upgraded to the top Band 3 'as part of their devolution deals', DfT officials said.
The West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) was an exception to this, with all its members in Band 2. Member council Wakefield MBC has a capital budget for 2016-2017 of £5.8m, and a revenue budget of £1.5m, for around 1,500km of local roads. Highways network service manager, Graham West, explains the city region’s ambitious plans to move all its authorities up to Band 3 by the end of the calendar year.
‘Across West Yorkshire we have identified 900 worker days are needed in order to meet our ambition of getting Band 3 - if you calculate that at an average of around £40 an hour, you can calculate an average figure. That is a significant resource implication but not something that is unmanageable if you do it in the right way. In West Yorkshire we are using all our skills to reduce that cost.’
A total of 18 individual councils lost 10% of the Incentive Fund allocation this year as they were marked in the lowest Band 1.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has a capital budget of £10.6m this year and a revenue budget of £8.8m, covering around 2,330km of local highways. The council is putting in place an action plan and sources suggest it ‘fully expects to be at Band 2 within 12 months’. It is also determining the most efficient way to achieve Band 3.
The conclusion that can be fairly drawn from these responses is that the sector is reacting positively to the change, with those in the lower Bands already putting plans in place to move up through the ranks. However it is clearly a time consuming and costly exercise and those in the lowest Band 1 are unlikely to move into Band 3 by next year. Unfortunately this means even greater financial pain is in store for some highways authorities.
When it comes to financial policies and local government, it is a very benign wind indeed that blows no one any harm.
The full version of this feature first appeared in Surveyor magazine. To subscribe to your own monthly copy, please visit www.transport-network.co.uk/subscribe