Predictions that councils in England could face a funding black hole of over £50bn over the next six years would see even less being spent on local road maintenance as councils would be forced to raid their highway budgets in order to fund social care and other services.
An independent analysis of councils’ financial sustainability up to 2025 by Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) for the County Councils Network (CCN) has found that the rising demand for services plus rising costs could result in councils needing an additional £51.8bn over the period 2019-2025.
This funding black hole could have severe repercussions on road maintenance expenditure explained Mike Harper, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA): “Councils are being forced to make difficult choices and as road maintenance budgets are not ring fenced this makes them an easy target. Over the last few years we have seen the compound effect of consecutive years of underfunding on basic road maintenance. This has caused the pothole epidemic – an indication of the state of road surfaces as a whole. The local road network is a council’s most important infrastructure asset yet they are forced to raid their highway budgets to fund other services. Local authorities reported an increase in funding allocation last year, but it is essential those funds are protected and are used for road maintenance”.
According to the latest Asphalt Industry Alliance ALARM Survey decades of government underfunding local road maintenance means that one-in-five local roads are so structurally poor that they may need replacing in five years. Harper said: “This is such a poor way to maintain our roads, to let them get into such a poor condition that replacement is the only option. Timely intervention, as part of a planned asset management strategy, is the way forward, using road surface treatments that can increase the longevity of the road at a fraction of the price of replacement and with much less disruption to road users”.
Harper continued: “A well-maintained local road network 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. It is too important an asset for its already limited budgets to be used as a reserve to dip into to fund other council services.
Faced with continued budgetary cutbacks and rising demand and costs councils have striven to increase productivity and efficiencies yet there is only so much that they can do. Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that allow funding for all areas of services. The Well Managed Highways Code of Practice is now in place for authorities to practice proper asset management. Let’s give the highways maintenance professionals the security of funding they need to be able to follow this guidance by providing a 5 year ring fenced settlement for local roads.”