TRANSPORT SECRETARY Alistair Darling last week warned local authorities that he would cut their funding if they failed to deliver transport spending plans.
Darling warned that the government would 'punish' councils if a progress review of their local transport plans (LTPs) revealed that they had underspent. LTP expenditure covers bus and congestion charging schemes, expanding transport hubs and light rail schemes.
'In the next funding review we will reward councils that cut congestion and improve public transport and punish those that don't, ' he told delegates at last week's Labour Party conference.
'We are not going to let councils off the hook, ' he added.
The Department for Transport confirmed this week this may mean funding is cut.
'Ministers may consider reducing funds as part of the next LTP, ' said a spokeswoman.
'We wouldn't expect to provide additional funds to a poorly performing council'.
Local authorities launched their first five yearly LTPs in 2001. These are intended to reflect the aims of the government's 10 year transport plan.
Budgets for these were loosely set for the whole five years but are reviewed each year to ensure targets are being met.
Ministers are currently reviewing councils' transport improvement progress for 2001-2002 and assessing the impact on 2003-2004 budgets.
Recent reports have indicated that some councils are failing to reach targets or not spending transport funds as central government intended.
An ICE survey published earlier this year confirmed that 10% of council highways maintenance budgets are currently being diverted to other areas of expenditure. It said that since last year, the roads maintenance backlog has soared by £1bn to £7.4bn (NCE 26 September).
Since April the government has scrapped the ring fencing of money earmarked for transport spending, making it easier for them to switch money to other areas.
Association of Municipal Engineers chairman John Sanders this week rejected Darling's plans to punish underspending councils.
Instead he said the government needed to get 'more realistic' about the amount of bureaucracy and revenue financing problems councils faced when delivering transport improvements.
Sanders said that although councils had been given more capital funds to build new assets like transport interchanges, central government bureaucracy was affecting them.
The government's best value requirements demand high levels of consultation about projects before capital expenditure funds are released. This delays schemes or forces engineers to make major changes, he said.
INFOPLUS ww. dft. gov. uk The facts The ICE annual Local Transport & Public Realm survey published earlier this year found that:
l72% of authorities are having problems with revenue funding, with 25% describing these problems as severe l58% of authorities have said they expect difficulties implementing their local transport plans with resources available l71% find the funding systems time-wasting and awkward.