New government statistics have exposed the extent to which local highway departments are being forced to rob their transport budgets by hundreds of millions in order to fund social care.
The Local Authority Expenditure and Financing 2018-19 Budget: England, published by Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, shows that local authorities were forecast to spend £4.24 billion on highways and transport over 2017-2018. Yet, new outturn figures from the Ministry show that they actually spent £3.994 billion. This represents an underspend of over £240 million as councils raid their highway budgets to fund other services.
As the Government continues to reduce core funding, councils are facing significant funding pressures. The Local Government Association report that English councils will have an overall funding gap of almost £8 billion by 2025. Faced with increased social care demands that figure will certainly rise. As will the number of councils reporting severe budget deficits. Northampton Council has a shortfall of £70 million, Lewisham Council has a deficit of £13 million, Surrey, England’s richest county, has a shortfall of £100 million.
“Councils are being forced to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ and as road maintenance budgets are not ring fenced this makes them an easy target,” said Howard Robinson, chief executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA). “The result is the plague of potholes and deteriorating road surfaces seen across the country as councils struggle to fund programmes of essential maintenance. The local road network is a council’s most important infrastructure asset yet they are forced to ransack their highway budgets to fund other services.”
He continued: “Government must recognise that councils cannot continue without sufficient resources that allow funding for all areas of services.”
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