Chaotic Government Funding Fails to Fix Pothole Epidemic


Ludicrous. A lottery. These are just some of the terms being used to describe the Government’s approach to roads maintenance, after the Public Accounts Committee issued a damning report into funding arrangements this week.

The all-party committee of MPs responsible for scrutinising public spending have concluded this Government’s stop-start approach to roads maintenance funding is wasting taxpayers’ money and failing to deliver better roads. Labour’s Chair of the Committee, Margaret Hodge, has hit out at a Government who cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2 billion upon entering office – only to sign last minute checks on nine separate occasions because the pothole problem has got out of control.

Everyone knows it is cheaper to plan road maintenance rather than patch up damage following floods, ice or storms. But by continually turning the funding tap on and off since entering office in 2010, this Government have stopped councils from planning road maintenance cost effectively. Ministers’ last minute pothole pay outs mean all that councils can do is patch up damage, rather than properly preventing disrepair on our roads.

The Government is not getting the basics right. Despite announcing ‘jam tomorrow’ with their Action for Roads strategy, Ministers are not learning the clear lessons from the past few years. Their ‘roads reforms’ will not fix the pothole problem because they only seem interested in new schemes, rather than long term maintenance funding for roads old and new. Under Ministers’ plans spending on potholes in 2020 will be lower than it was in 2010.

The problems go beyond money too. It is shocking that the Highway’s Agency holds no information on 70% of its drainage systems, and that many local authorities do not accurately monitor condition of their roads. This is no way to care for our national infrastructure.

The ICE State of the UK’s Infrastructure Report this year was a clear warning that, with extreme weather conditions set to increase in the UK, we must prioritise the maintenance and resilience of the national infrastructure we have. One third of local roads are in urgent need of attention and public satisfaction with road condition is at a record low. So why is the Government wasting time on an institutional reorganisation of the Highway Agency instead of tackling the pothole epidemic?

Changes to the Agency overseeing 2% of our road network (our motorways and “A Roads”) will not fix the potholes that undermine road safety and blight everyday journeys for car drivers, motorcyclists, cyclists, and HGVs too. Potholes cost us billions in worse congestion, vehicle repairs, council compensation claims, higher emissions and road collisions too. But Ministers ‘roads reform’ proposals do nothing to improve the condition of – or congestion on – the local roads we use everyday.

The Public Accounts Committee’s report should be a wake up call for the Government. Sadly George Osborne’s obsession with cutting ribbon on new roads means we just continue to get chaotic spending and unfinished schemes from the Tory-led Coalition. We need a clear ‘fix it first’ plan’ to fix the roads that we all rely on.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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