With one-in-ten councils facing the prospect of running out of money within the next three years, the condition of local roads is set to get even worse.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that many councils are on the verge of insolvency having had their central government funding cut by nearly 50 percent over the last eight years. Last month, Northamptonshire County Council had to impose strict spending controls after effectively going bankrupt. Surrey County Council, England’s richest county, reports a funding gap of £105 million or 12.8 percent. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire are all approaching bankruptcy with Somerset’s reserves having fallen by 60 percent, Norfolk’s by 50 percent and Lancashire by 48 per cent.
Faced with increased demands, particularly for social care, councils have been forced to raid their reserves and to ransack funds meant for other services. Highway budgets, which are not ringfenced, have been particularly affected with 62 percent of local authorities in England cutting their highways and transport budgets in 2017.
Increased social care demands means that funding from local council tax is also being diverted away from repairing and maintaining roads. Analysis by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that by 2020 almost 60p in every £1 that people pay in council tax may have to be spent on social care leaving less to fund essential road maintenance. Only 5p will be spent on roads and street lighting.
“The local road network is already at breaking point. Many roads are potholed and rutted and the recent severe winter weather will have only made matters worse. Yet, councils are running out of money and their ability to fund the necessary repair and maintenance is being compromised,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association.
He continued: “Local government in England faces a £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. The Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that enable adequate funding for all areas of council services. The local road network is a council’s most important asset yet they are forced to ransack their highways budget to fund other services.”