16 April 2024

How the government can support road improvements

How the government can support road improvements  image
Image: Patrick Shutterstock / Shutterstock.com.

Jake Michael, RS Bonds, sets out a number of ways the Government can help local authorities improve the condition of the local road network.

The deteriorating quality of the UK's roads, which are riddled with potholes and cracks, presents an important issue to both local authorities and road users.

Last August, the Local Government Association (LGA) highlighted the need for collaboration with the Government to reverse the declining quality of road conditions. Their research revealed a concerning 22% year-on-year increase in the cost of repairing a pothole, with councils now shelling out an average of £52.23 per pothole. This is exacerbated by the Government cutting funding for local road maintenance from £1.5bn to £1.125bn in 2021/22, leaving a significant shortfall.

Councils are struggling to allocate resources efficiently, while British motorists incur higher repair expenses for car damage caused by bad road conditions. Potholes have caused damage to an estimated two million vehicles, costing drivers a staggering £4.74m in repair costs.

To address these challenges, the government must take decisive actions to support local authorities in improving road conditions.

1: Reverse the U-turn on the NRF

The National Roads Fund (NRF) was established to direct funds from Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) to critical road development projects. In 2018, the Government promised that £28.8bn from VED will be invested in the NRF to enable major road improvements between 2020 and 2025. Despite initial promises and commitments, VED funding is currently being directed to the Consolidated Fund, a general pool of tax collections, rather than being expressly designated for road improvements.

The RAC has expressed concerns about this shift in approach, with the Department For Transport announcing they will allocate only £8.3bn over 11 years for local road maintenance, which falls short of addressing the extensive maintenance and repair needs. By reversing the decision to transfer VED funds away from the NRF, the Government can dramatically increase financing for road maintenance and repair projects. This would allow for efficient repair of potholes and road improvement, eventually contributing to safer and more efficient road networks for all users.

2: Increase the pothole fund to £14bn

PM Rishi Sunak's pledge of an £8.3bn fund to address the pothole situation is a positive step forward. However, given the scale of the issue, this amount may be insufficient to retrospectively deal with potholes. The LGA emphasised the need for long-term financing to solve England's large local road maintenance backlog, which is estimated at £14bn. This would offer councils much-needed certainty, allowing them to plan ahead and resume inflation-related repairs.

The Government should provide council Highways Departments with five-year funding to bring them up to level with national highways. This would allow municipalities to undertake resurfacing programmes and other highway enhancements, effectively addressing the issue of potholes, as well as implementing long-term strategies for maintaining and enhancing local roads. This additional investment would give councils the resources they require to carry out proactive resurfacing projects, eliminating the need for costly and reactive pothole repairs in the future.

3: Collaborate with local contractors & suppliers

Collaborating with contractors and material suppliers is vital to completing road infrastructure improvement projects. With the existing financing structure for local transport impeding the creation of long-term road maintenance, there is an urgent need to simplify and streamline funding sources to enable more efficient planning and implementation. Each authority should create a long-term infrastructure strategy for its communities and the Government can assist by providing devolved five-year budgets, targeted investment in key sectors, and professional assistance.

Local governments can maximise road maintenance and improvement efficiency by collaborating with national and local construction businesses and material suppliers. This partnership could lead to creative ideas, cost-effective techniques, and timely completion of infrastructure projects, all of which benefit communities and promote the Government's levelling-up aims.

4: Review current policies for funding local authorities

As part of the Spending Review announced in October 2021, the Government set aside £2.7bn from 2022 to 2025 to help local councils maintain and repair roads, including fixing potholes. This funding, which includes the remainder of the pothole financing package proposed in Budget 2020, is critical for highway resurfacing and pothole repair. The money is split according to sector-specific formulae, with these allocations remaining consistent from one year to the next.

By simplifying the financing process and ensuring equitable resource allocation based on actual needs and priorities, the Government can maximise the effect of its financial assistance. This strategic approach will allow local governments to improve road infrastructure, resulting in safer and more efficient transportation networks for their residents.

The state of the UK's roads is an urgent matter that requires swift intervention and is a fundamental safety priority. The government's pledge to invest £8.3bn for pothole repairs is a beginning in the right direction, but more comprehensive solutions and additional resources are required to successfully address the larger difficulties of road maintenance. By reversing the NRF's U-turn and revisiting budget distribution regulations, the Government can offer essential support to local authorities and guarantee safer, smoother roads for all Britons.

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