New figures from the RAC Foundation highlight the fact that motorists are paying four times more money in taxation than is being spent by the government on roads. This is simply unacceptable believes the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
The RAC report, ‘Public expenditure, taxes and subsidies: land transport in Great Britain’, shows that in 2013 £30.7 billion was raised from direct motoring taxation (excluding VAT). This included £24.8 billion from fuel duty and £5.9 billion from vehicle excise duty. However, in the same year just £7.5 billion was spent on the road network: £3 billion on motorways and trunk roads and £4.5 billion on the local road network.
“There is a substantial gap between the taxation levied on motorists and the amount the government provides for roads. The result is under investment and potholes,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive.
Some £12 billion is necessary to address the national and local backlog of repairs and potholes.
“UK motorists are getting a raw deal. They provide over £30 billion in taxes to the Treasury. It seems only reasonable that a fair share of that is invested back into the road network”, said Robinson.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has opened a public consultation on proposals for a standardised road works permit scheme. The proposals may be attractive on paper but in practice will probably fail in some aspects due to the vagaries of the British weather. For when it comes to road works it could simply be a case of rain stops play with unwarranted severe consequences for contractors.
Under the plans, the DfT will allow council chief executives to sign-off local permit schemes rather than applying for central government permission. A key area of this new policy will be the standardisation of permit conditions. Permit schemes require anyone carrying out road works to apply for a permit in advance with local councils setting out work conditions.
“By their very nature standardised permits can be inflexible. No one job is the same as another”, said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “Furthermore permitting has the potential to be unworkable due to the weather. Road surfacing treatments are weather dependent. If it is raining or temperatures are freezing then work cannot be undertaken.”
With a permit only allowing work on predetermined days, adverse weather could prevent road surface treatments being carried out during the prescribed time. Given the vagaries of the British weather this scenario could be repeated throughout the road surfacing season resulting in an increase in contractors’ costs in turn leading to an increase in contractor rates and less value for road budgets.
“The proposed permit schemes must take full account of the fact that road surfacing work is subject to clement weather conditions. Road contractors can provide cost effective and long-lasting road surfaces but they cannot predict the weather,” said Robinson.
Whilst there are no official studies into the correlation between poor road surface condition and road casualty figures, it should come as no surprise that the sharp increase in road accidents comes at a time of growing concern over the £12 billion back log in road repairs.
Figures released by the Department for Transport (DfT) show a significant increase of 17% of people killed or seriously injured (KSI) on our roads in the first quarter of 2014 compared to 2013. Worryingly, DfT figures also show that traffic volume has only risen by 4.1% to 5.1% over the same period leading to the conclusion that traffic casualties are rising much faster than traffic volume.
In total, casualty figures, including slight injuries, rose to 45,960 – a rise of 15% from 39,751.
“Although there are no actual figures to support the correlation, it would be surprising if there was no link between the deteriorating condition of road surfaces and the increase in road casualties. Potholes and reduced skidding performance have a direct impact on the safety of road surfaces,” said Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA).
In addition to concern over the negative impact of poor road condition road safety, Robinson also points to the decrease in the use of high friction surfacing at accident hotspots such as road junctions, roundabouts and zebra crossings.
High friction surfacing (HFS) significantly improves the skid resistance of roads and its use can result in a 50% reduction in accidents. However, out-dated concerns over cost and durability have seen a marked decline in the use of HFS. This is now being addressed with the initial cost of HFS being balanced against the significant savings resulting from reduced accidents – it is estimated that the associated accident and investigation costs of a non-motorway fatal accident can be up to £1.4 million – and the availability of best practice installation guidance and practical operative training.
“A well-maintained road surface is a safe road surface. The significant increase in road casualties points to the need for correct investment in long-term maintenance of our road network”, said Robinson.
With the Department for Transport (DfT) due to launch its consultation period on proposals to change road maintenance funding rules, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA), whilst welcoming a fundamental review of funding, is concerned that the proposed performance-based rewarding of funds could result in a nationwide patchwork of conflicting road standards.
Currently, local highway authorities receive central government funding for road maintenance via the Highways Maintenance Capital Block Grant. This funding allocation is based on a formula developed in 2005 and is based upon the miles of road that each highway authority has. The DfT propose that every local authority would receive a baseline settlement with additional funding being reserved for those authorities who have highway asset management strategies in place and can demonstrate increased road maintenance efficiencies.
“Whilst we welcome and encourage highway authorities to be forward thinking and adopt asset management, any new funding arrangements should take full account that different authorities are at different stages of asset management implementation”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Given that local road networks are interlinked to provide a national network, it is important that a performance-related funding mechanism does not result in a piece-meal improvement where one authority has a well-maintained road network whilst those of neighbouring authorities are poor.”
RSTA is calling for the government to acknowledge that it must increase the overall road maintenance budget before introducing two tier funding mechanisms. Robinson continued: “The potholed result of inadequate level of investment in road maintenance is, sadly, all too evident. With some £12 billion necessary to bring the road network up to standard, the lack of adequate funding for road maintenance rather than how an insufficient amount is allocated needs to be addressed first.”
Recent comments by the Roads Minister Robert Goodwill that potholes are to be welcomed as a sign of a booming economy underline how out-of-touch the government is when it comes to investing in a well-maintained road network.
Speaking on LBC radio last week as the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was announcing how an additional £168 million emergency fund for fixing potholes would be allocated to local highway authorities, Goodwill said: “More goods are travelling around as the economy improves. More people are travelling to work as they get jobs so this means the roads are getting more wear and tear.”
Commenting on this simplistic view of the deteriorating state of the UK’s road network, Howard Robinson, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) said: “The real issue is the decades of under-investment in road maintenance that has resulted in a £12 billion bill to restore the road network to an acceptable condition. Massive under-investment means that we have a road network full of pot holes that is it not fit for purpose now that the economy is improving”.
Indeed the poor state of the UK’s road network is a hindrance to economic recovery. Local authorities are paying out over £32 million annually is compensation claims from road users for personal injury or vehicle damage. Nationally, the potholes cost the economy £5 billion a year due to reduced productivity, increased fuel consumption, vehicular damage and delayed deliveries.
“The economic truth is that the lack of real investment means that the condition of our roads continue to worsen. Piecemeal, unpredictable funding like the additional emergency pothole fund is not the way forward,” said Robinson. “Potholes are not a result of an improving economy but the inability of the government to recognise the result of decades of under-investment in the maintenance of the UK road network which just happens to be the nation’s most valuable asset.”