'Stop-go' funding for road maintenance has diminished value, say MPs

27 September 2014

Value for money in road maintenance has been “put at risk” due to the Department for Transport’s “unpredictable and fluctuating” budgets, MPs said.

The Public Accounts Committee reported following a £1.2 billion cut in road maintenance budgets over the four years from April 2011, the department has intermittently made available a total of £1.1 billion additional funding on nine separate occasions.

This funding has come in response to flooding and winter damage to the road, for example. But certainty of funding contributes to savings of between 10 and 20 per cent, according to Infrastructure UK, a unit within the Treasury.

It costs £52 to fill a pothole, but £31.6 million was spent in 2013/2014 to pay and process compensation claims from road users for damages arising from poor road conditions, Infrastructure UK said.

“The department’s piecemeal and stop-go approach to funding road maintenance has made it difficult for highway authorities to maintain roads cost effectively,” said Margaret Hodge, chair of the PAC and Labour MP. “There has been too much reactive work in response to flooding and other events and not enough focus on preventative work that is less expensive in the long-term.”

The PAC report Maintaining Strategic Infrastructure: Roads stated local highways authorities must have better information on road infrastructure, better planning of funding and a proactive stance on maintenance, that is carried out outside of the winter months.

It also recommended the department uses the way it allocates its funding to incentivise efficiency and collaboration and it should not fund poor performance.

For example, those local highway authorities that carry out maintenance less efficiently should be targeted with the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme, in which two-thirds of the 152 local highways authorities have formed alliance and reduced costs through shared procurement arrangements.

Hodge added: “Better information, better planning of funding and a pro-active stance on maintenance are what the department must promote to have a chance of pleasing unhappy road users.”

The report said the UK road network, valued at £344 billion, carried 90 per cent of passenger traffic and 68 per cent of freight.

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