The Department for Transport has told MPs it is committed to winning Treasury support for a longer-term funding settlement for highways authorities in the next Spending Review.
But it has also warned that it will expect to see councils adopt new technology and increase collaboration as part of a more pro-active, long-term approach to improving the condition of the nation’s roads – routinely criticised for their potholes and general poor repair.
The department’s assurance came in a written response to parliament’s Transport Select Committee. It had sought a commitment from officials to secure a front-loaded funding settlement for councils that would allow them to tackle a “historic backlog” of poorly-maintained roads and “plan confidently” for the future for roads that they are responsible for. Highways England looks after the nation's strategic road network – including motorways and some A-roads, while local roads are looked after by local authorities.
The just-published response from the department said pushing “the benefits of a longer-term funding settlement for local highways maintenance” was part of DfT’s ongoing work with the Treasury and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
“Long-term consistent funding certainty for local highways maintenance is important to ensure that highway authorities can make effective decisions and to seek efficiencies through the supply chain,” it said.
“The government is also of the view that improving and maintaining the condition of the local road network is not just about funding. It’s about efficiencies, collaborating better with neighbouring authorities, making sure the correct materials are used, using new technology and methods.
“It is also about highway authorities understanding the assets for which they are responsible and making sure they have robust data to plan their maintenance service properly.
“The Department for Transport is currently working on developing a good evidence base to ensure it submits a strong business case to HM Treasury as part of a future Spending Review. As part of this we are also working closely with MHCLG regarding Revenue Support Grant.”
Select committee chair Lillian Greenwood said the poor state of the nation’s roads meant a simple visit to the shops or the commute to work could result in injury or damage to vehicles from the “plague of potholes” on local roads.
She added that poorly-maintained roads were a major issue for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as for drivers.
“We therefore welcome the commitment from the department to work across government on giving local councils the cash and long-term funding certainty they need to tackle the effects on roads of years of neglect,” she said.
“The new DfT ministerial team’s willingness to engage with the work and recommendations of the committee is refreshing. We’ll continue to press to ensure the government commits to proper funding to make sure roads are safe for all.”