A senior roads consultant has renewed the debate on the need to ring fence fuel tax and vehicle excise duty for road maintenance spending.
Mouchel public services director Matthew Lugg said ring fencing fuel and vehicle excise duty was the best way to ensure long term funding certainty for the UK’s highways.
He was speaking after public spending watchdog the National Audit Office warned that the unpredictability of road maintenance funding was threatening road maintenance value for money.
The watchdog urged the government to address the barriers to long-term road maintenance expenditure planning, particularly on local routes.
Lugg told NCE that while the government intended to reform the way trunk roads were maintained, it risked missing the wider problem.
“Ninety-eight per cent of UK roads are local roads,” he said. “The revenue local authorities have for these is so fickle that they don’t know what the funding will be. “Fuel and vehicle tax should go straight to road maintenance – the more you use your car, the more you damage the road. This would give more long-term certainty of funding.”
Plans to turn the Highways Agency into a government-owned company were included in the Infrastructure Bill published this week.
Lugg backed proposed Highways Agency reforms, saying the government’s plan would give more funding visibility for strategic road maintenance. But he insisted equally radical measures were needed to ensure local roads were kept in good condition.
“Until we increase funding, we will see growing backlogs and more potholes and other damage,” he warned. “This will ultimately cost even more. The longer you wait to intervene, the longer it takes to put right.”
The watchdog said the government had slashed budgets for roads maintenance when it came to power in 2010 – then released some money in the form of one-off amounts to tackle issues such as winter damage. The actual reduction in the Agency’s maintenance budget in the five years to 2015 would now be 7%, rather than the 19% announced in the 2010 Spending Review. Capital funding for local highway authorities to build new roads will have increased by 3% over that period, rather than the planned reduction of 15%.
But revenue funding for maintenance, will have fallen by about 33% instead of 28%. “The Department for Transport (DfT) should build on the steps that it has already taken to improve value for money by working with HM Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government to address the barriers to long-term planning for road maintenance, such as the lack of predictability of funding for local highway authorities and the split between revenue and capital funding,” says the watchdog’s report.
It also called for the DfT to improve its understanding of the condition and needs of the local road network.