This week the influential and much-respected Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee turned its attention to roads – and specifically to the potholes in them.
Its report lambasted the Coalition for its ‘stop-go’ inefficient funding of the problem.
When it came to power, the LibDem/Tory Coalition immediately cut the funding for road maintenance – by £1.2 billion.
Then, as the problems resulting from that mounted, they scrambled to put in funding – to the tune of £1.1 billion.
Margaret Hodge and her committee have criticised this policy as just the sort of wasteful stop-go which prevents proper planning – which ends up spending the money anyway, but spends it much less efficiently than if it had been properly, sensibly allocated in the first place.
‘It seems ludicrous that in 2010 the Department cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2 billion over the four years from April 2011, but then it has intermittently given £1.1 billion additional funding on nine separate occasions for various reasons, including in response to flooding or winter damage to the roads.
Infrastructure UK has said that savings of 10-20% are associated with certainty of funding.’
Among the report’s recommendations are the following statements:
‘Routine maintenance is essential to deal with increasingly frequent severe weather and to prevent long-term damage to infrastructure but a fall in the proportion of revenue funding to capital funding risks a reduction in this type of maintenance.
‘Essential routine maintenance activities such as inspections, clearing drains and winter gritting can only be paid for from revenue funds. Maintaining good drainage, in particular, is vital to reducing flooding as well as preventing costly damage to road infrastructure from water penetration. The Agency’s revenue spending was 29% lower in 2012-13 than it was in 2010-11. Although local authorities’ capital funding has increased slightly, their revenue funding from central government reduced by around a third over the four years of the 2010 spending review, and it is set to fall by a further 10% from 2015-16 to 2020-21.
‘The Department should ensure the Highways Agency has the right balance of revenue and capital funding to enable it to carry out essential routine maintenance activities.
The Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government should examine the cumulative impact of their combined funding decisions on local authorities’ road maintenance, and they should adjust their approach accordingly to support essential routine road maintenance activities.’
In a nutshell – the LibDem/Tory Coalition have been depriving Local Authorities of the money – in the form of secure longer-term funding – which they need in order to plan road maintenance effectively.
Government – at every level – needs to be able to plan. The Coalition’s lurching from ‘Off’ to ‘On’ makes that impossible – and is hugely wasteful of public money.
Our MP here in Leeds NW has made something of a personal campaign about potholes. He’s urged people to contact him about them.
He’s blamed – you guessed it – Leeds [Labour] Council for them.
He made a point of welcoming the [now judged inefficient] funding lurch in March this year.
Now don’t get us wrong.
We don’t consider this a trivial issue.
We share Mr Mulholland’s concern here.
But we do consider that it’s an issue which will only be resolved by getting to the root of the problem.
We share the Public Accounts’ Committee’s concerns here.
The committee’s report suggests that Mr Mulholland has been tilting at the wrong windmill.
He’d have done his constituents more good by getting his own party to act in a more sensible, governmental way.
He might now at least have the grace to admit where the fault lies.
Power comes with responsibility.
His constituents would, of course, have been best served if his party had never had enough MPs to form the Coalition with the Tories in the first place.
Next May, please note.
Incidentally, if you do have a pothole problem near you, Leeds City Council has a pothole help line.
Leeds NW really will be better under Labour.
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