‘Road to ruin’ alert over cuts in funding

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A YORKSHIRE council leader has hit out at Government cuts to local authorities’ highway maintenance funding as a Whitehall spending watchdog warned the measures put roads at risk of deteriorating.

Coun Peter Box, leader of Wakefield Council and chairman of the Local Government Association’s economy and transport board, said: “Keeping roads safe is one of the most important jobs councils do, and over the past two years they have fixed almost four million potholes. They’ve also reduced the cost of filling a pothole by 25 per cent while improving the quality of repairs.

“However, for decades Whitehall funding for repairs on our local road network has not kept pace with demand.

“Damage caused by severe winters and widespread flooding has compounded this deterioration and it’s estimated it would now cost about £10bn to bring our roads up to scratch.

“Councils have long told successive governments prevention is better than cure and we need a serious commitment from Whitehall to fund widespread resurfacing of our road network.

“This will save billions of pounds down the line, make roads safer for motorists and reduce compensation costs on councils.”

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) yesterday said funding to local authorities had remained stable following the 2010 Government spending review and autumn statement.

But there was a 28 per cent real-terms fall in grants from the Department for Communities and Local Government over the spending review period up to 2014-15.

The NAO said councils’ statutory duties such as payments to bus operators to reimburse them for concessionary fares, meant funding for other areas, including routine highways maintenance, was likely to fall.

The NAO said it had commented in an earlier report on the effects of budget cuts on national and local highways maintenance.

“We said that cuts risked deterioration in highway quality and higher long-term costs for the Department for Transport (DfT) or local authorities,” it said in yesterday’s report.

“The Audit Commission also reported in 2011 that there was a significant but unquantifiable backlog of maintenance work needed to get local highways to a sustainable level.”

Local authorities are having to prioritise and reduce transport expenditure against a background of reduced and sometimes uncertain Government funding, according to yesterday’s report.

“Reduced overall funding for local authorities risks worsening highway quality,” it said.

Concerns about roads came from the NAO as it reported on the DfT’s plans to devolve more control over funding and delivery of transport services to local bodies.

The NAO said it was calling on the DfT “to clarify its approach as it implements these changes and moves into the new ways of working”.