Funding reduction could impact road maintenance

Councils have warned that they will have to scale back road maintenance as local authorities face a £500 million funding reduction – which could have fixed 11.5 million potholes.

England’s largest county and rural councils are set to lose almost £500 million in local roads maintenance funding by April this year, despite the government’s commitment to tackling the scourge of potholes.

The County Councils Network’s (CCN) analysis of indicative roads maintenance funding reveals county and rural councils outside of England’s major cities and urban areas could receive £727 million next financial year – a reduction of £480 million compared to what they received two years ago. This equates to filling 11.5 million potholes.

Council leaders say that this reduction, based on an analysis of the government's Spending Review document, will mean that local authorities will have little choice but to cancel or scale back planned road maintenance works from April as a consequence. County leaders said that they welcomed the announcement in 2019 of ‘the biggest-ever pothole filling programme’, which included £2.5 billion in additional funding to councils over the course of the Parliament.

However, county authorities could receive 40 per cent less than they did two years ago, leaving them grappling with a clear public expectation that councils would continue to invest in their road network -  but with significantly less money to do so.

In contrast, Mayoral Combined Authorities are to benefit from significant investment in road and transport infrastructure through a new dedicated £5.7 billion Fund over the next three years. The funding reduction for areas outside of the major cities comes despite analysis by CCN showing that 13,000 miles of road were identified across those 36 county areas as requiring maintenance last year – nine per cent of the total mileage in those places and five times the amount of England’s largest cities, including London.

In 2020/21, the first tranche of the pothole fund saw funding rise to £1.206 billion for 36 county and unitary councils outside of England’s major cities. However, two years later, capital funding for these authorities could fall to just £727 million next year - a cut of £480 million.

With inflation adding an average of 7.8 per cent to road maintenance costs alone, and with wider financial pressures facing county authorities, many will face little choice but to reduce investment: cancelling planned works and filling in less potholes - doing ‘reputational damage’ to both local and national government.

CCN is calling for the government to either find additional resources to maintain their manifesto pledge, or reprioritise funding from other budgets, such as the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements, to ensure that county and unitary authorities outside England’s major cities do not face unfair and disproportionate reductions in capital funding.

Martin Hill, CCN Devolution Spokesperson, said: “The government’s commitment to increase pothole funding by £500 million was strongly welcomed by county leaders in all four corners of England. It is important that communities across the whole country receive levelling-up support, and with over 13,000 miles of roads in areas outside of the major cities areas requiring maintenance, ensuring these roads are in good condition is vital.

“But a £479 million drop in funding between 2021 and 2023 is hugely significant and is the equivalent of filling over 11 million potholes. With the government making such a clear announcement that it was increasing pothole funding in 2019, we are left grappling with the public’s expectation that we are able to continue to invest in our road network.

“Unless this reduction is reversed, and the government provides an urgent injection of resources to match the level it distributed in 2020/21, then we will have little choice but to cancel planned works. This would represent a major scaling back of our ambitions.”

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