If you want to ensure that Britain is open for business then invest in a well-maintained local road network. This is the advice given to the Chancellor by the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) ahead of the Autumn Budget.
In its ‘Making the case for investment in the local road network – the economic argument’, the RSTA explains that the local road network is the country’s greatest infrastructure asset. It comprises 183,000 miles, represents 98% of the total road network and is worth over £340 billion.
“A well-maintained local road is essential for the national economic prosperity of the country. It is the prerequisite link to the national road and rail network, to the ports and airports, between peoples’ homes and places of work,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Unfortunately, the Government has failed to recognise this and despite the vast majority of journeys being taken using the local road network, it has failed to match the expenditure provided to maintain the national road network with that provided to maintain the local road network. National roads and motorway maintenance receives 53 times more funding than local roads.”
He added: “Successive Chancellors have failed to do the maths and understand the economic folly of spending an average £52m2 to repair a pothole against the £2m2 to surface dress and maintain a road and so prevent the pothole from forming in the first place.”
The result is there are over 24,400 miles of local roads that require essential maintenance. That equates to one-in-five local roads now classed as being structurally poor and requiring replacement within five years. (1)
RSTA supports its call for greater investment with the research and survey evidence from key industry organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce, the EEF and the CBI who all report that their members believe the deteriorating state of the local road network is increasingly a barrier to business.
RSTA also reminds the Chancellor of the growing discrepancy between the amount that motorists pay in taxation and the amount that is spent on local roads. Motorists pay £58 billion in taxation to the Exchequer – £26.9 billion in fuel duty, £25 billion VAT on fuel and £6.1 billion for other motoring taxes. Against this just £2,06 billion is provided by central government as funding for local road maintenance. Furthermore, as it is not ring-fenced, the funding may not even be spent on road maintenance but on other council services as cash-strapped councils struggle to balance the books.
RSTA calls for a number of simple cost effective policy changes that would make a real difference. This include allowing the local road network to receive funds from vehicle excise duty – currently, the monies raised are only available for motorways and A roads – injecting £1 billion a year to address the £9.3 billion backlog of local road pothole repairs by investing just 2p a litre from the existing fuel duty and ring-fencing local highway budgets. Starved of funding, by 2020 local councils will spend 60p in every £1 raised by council tax on social care leaving less to fund essential road maintenance.
“If the Chancellor is to show that he is really serious about improving the national economy then he must recognise the national economic importance of investing in a well-maintained local road network,” said Robinson.