Spending on local road repairs in the UK has been reduced by more than nearly all other OECD countries in almost two decades, new Local Government Association analysis has revealed.
The LGA, which represents councils across England and Wales, said it wants to work with Government on a devolved, long term plan for our local roads, which needs to include greater and more consistent funding to get our investment in roads back up to the levels of other leading countries.
The Government currently spends 31 times more per mile on maintaining motorways than local roads. Ahead of the next General Election, the LGA is calling on all political parties to pledge to a 10 year programme where current funding for local roads and local transport infrastructure is boosted by devolving the equivalent of 2p of existing fuel duty. This would help councils to reverse the current decline in road conditions, so residents aren’t paying for far more expensive pothole repairs, and work can continue on reducing air pollution and supporting the move to a low carbon economy.
This needs be accompanied by fully devolved powers to councils over all local transport, with five year funding settlements as benefits national bodies such as Network Rail and National Highways, to also allow investment in more sustainable and lower carbon forms of local transport as we work towards net zero.
This would not only ensure councils can tackle our growing local roads repair backlog but also boost the economy, jobs and investment.
Figures from the OECD – a group of 38 ‘high income countries’– show that £4 billion was spent in 2006 on UK local road maintenance compared with £2 billion in 2019 – the last year of comparable data available.
This is compared to Sweden, Denmark, the United States, Japan and New Zealand which have increased spending by around half over the same period. Countries including France, Finland and Canada have also protected pothole repair budgets more than the UK Government has.
Only Italy and Ireland have seen such similar drops in spending on local roads.
This comes as at the same time as the LGA publishes its latest residents satisfaction polling which found that only 34 per cent of residents were satisfied with how well their local roads were maintained. This is the lowest level recorded since the survey began in 2012.
Despite additional funding delivered in the Budget this year, latest estimates from the ALARM survey found that councils face a record £14 billion road repair backlog which it would take them 11 years to tackle without further support.
Rising levels of inflation which has pushed up the cost of materials such as bitumen as well as more extreme winter weather has made it harder for councils to tackle potholes and maintain local roads.
Cllr Shaun Davies, Chair of the LGA said: “The UK has fallen from the top to almost the bottom of the league when it comes to the amount we spend on repairing our local roads.
“Decades of reductions in funding from central government to local road repair budgets has left councils facing the biggest ever annual pothole repair backlog.
“Positive extra funding in the recent Budget will help, but councils still face considerable challenges when trying to get on top of this pothole blight.
“In order to support motorists, the Government should take this opportunity to work with councils to develop a long-term, fully-funded programme to catch up with the backlog. Ultimately, all local transport decisions should be devolved to councils, who are best placed in determining what is a priority for their areas.
“This will allow councils not just to tackle potholes but make improvements to road surfaces, saving money in the long term and improving our roads for everyone who uses them.
“As well as this, we would urge all parties to commit to invest in our local road network at the next general election, which is so important to our residents and our business community.”
Paul Boss, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) added: “The LGA findings come as no surprise and the RSTA is aware funding is falling far short of that necessary to maintain a steady state in the condition of local highway networks, never mind that required to make overall improvements. But there is still far more most local highway authorities could do with preventative maintenance strategies that would help them manage their networks in a sustainable and efficient way, ensuring a reduction in potholes and helping them to get a grip on making gradual improvements to their networks over time.”