Oxfordshire County Council has been praised for its decision to borrow £120 million to repair roads and other council assets. However, the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) says that although the council is to be commended for its planned investment, it is a sad indictment of how the government’s budget cutbacks have forced the council to go into debt to pay for essential road maintenance.
The council has made its decision following a report to the council’s cabinet that found lack of investment has resulted in a ‘significant reduction in quality of major and minor roads, as well as pavements, with an increase in car damage and personal injury claims’. The proposed investment will see £80 million spent on road improvements and £40 million invested in other council-owned assets.
It is hoped that Oxfordshire’s expected growth in homes and subsequent annual £6million increase in council tax revenue will pay back the loan.
“Oxfordshire County Council are to be commended for their decision to borrow to invest in road maintenance”, said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “The premise of investing in a well-maintained roadwork for economic return has been underlined by a recent West Midlands Road Condition Survey that found that an accelerated road maintenance programme would generate economic returns of £6.50 for every £1 spent. However, the council’s need to borrow additional funding proves that funding from central government is not sufficient to allow councils to fulfil their responsibilities.”
By 2020, local authorities will have had a £16 billion reduction of core government funding since 2010. Continued funding restrictions means that by 2025 councils in England will face a funding gap of £7.8 billion. Faced with this, councils are trying to find new ways of funding and operating whilst still delivering essential services such as road maintenance.
“The local road network is a council’s greatest infrastructure asset. A well maintained road network has significant economic and social benefits. Yet for years the government had failed to provide adequate funding for local road maintenance. The government should recognise the national importance of the local road network and increase investment accordingly,” said Robinson.