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Stop spending pothole funds on other services, say MPs

A group of MPs and Lords, set up to look at how the UK’s roads can be improved, has called on the Government to ringfence funds for fixing potholes again. In its September 2023 report Working for better roads, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Better Roads suggested that some councils were using money earmarked for road maintenance for other things.

APPGs are made up of MPs and Members of the House of Lords from different parties who share an interest in a particular topic. The APPG for Better Roads is chaired by Sir Christopher Chope MP, who is the Conservative MP for Christchurch.

The report points out that between 2015/16 and 2020/21, the Department for Transport (DfT) operated the Pothole Action Fund, £250m – later increased to £296m - which was ringfenced for fixing potholes or for stopping them from forming in the first place. In 2020, the Government announced that £500m a year through the Pothole Fund but rather than being ringfenced, it became part of local authorities’ block highway allocation.

This has reduced transparency about where the money is going, says the APPG report: “With the normal roads funding streams there is a risk of them being squeezed or allocated elsewhere, given the many pressures on local authority budgets, such as social care.”

The APPG report calls on statistics collected from local authorities through the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s (AIA) Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey. (The AIA, together with the Institute of Highways Engineers (IHE) researched and funded the report). Comparing the periods when pothole funds weren’t ringfenced with when they were, the average shortfall in carriageway maintenance budget is rising. And the proportion of the network in ‘good’ condition was rising when funds were ringfenced and is now declining.

“Removing the ring-fence has contributed to a reversal of the progress made,” says the report.

However, it seems likely that overall reductions in funding to councils, and competition from other demands on cash, must have contributed to declining road quality too. An average of 46% of funding for roads comes from central government with the rest coming from local authorities, according to the ALARM surveys.

The APPG report also points out that local roads are taking more loading than previously, with over a million more vans licensed today than ten years ago. An increase in heavier electric vehicles and automated vehicles which could run in the same channels of road repeatedly could make matters even worse.

The report also spells out some stark facts about England’s local road network compared to its strategic one, which is run by National Highways. The strategic road network is 4,500 miles long compared to 176,249 for the local road network, and yet the Government spends 31 times more per mile to maintain motorways compared to local roads.

The APPG recommends that a Better Roads Fund be created with long-term funding commitments and ringfencing and that there is transparency over how such funds are spent.


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