Local authority road maintenance in Scotland could be privatised in partnerships with contractors following a call for a national review of how the country’s road network is maintained.
A report from Audit Scotland published today finds that the condition of Scotland’s roads has worsened since its last report in 2004 – the value of the maintenance backlog had increased to £2.25bn by last October, £1bn more than in 2004. Now, only 63% of country’s roads are in an acceptable condition
Audit Scotland said that a Scottish Government review should therefore look to “increase the pace” of reform in maintenance, particularly the potential for shared services.
New ways of working between government agency Transport Scotland and local authorities should be examined, including exploring potential partnerships between councils, and with the private sector.
Currently, trunk road maintenance – which is Transport Scotland’s responsibility – is carried out by private contractors in four regions, but local roads are maintained by councils.
The report states that maintenance of key strategic routes should be prioritised, as Transport Scotland has estimated it would need to spend an additional £275M to get trunk roads into a ‘steady state’ whereby a fixed amount of roads needed structural maintenance each year.
Both Transport Scotland and councils should review their road maintenance strategies and plans to “confirm that adequate prioritisation is given to those routes which are likely to contribute greatest to economic growth and improved quality of life”, Audit Scotland recommends.
Trunk road maintenance is split by Transport Scotland into four regions - the north west maintenance unit is managed by the Scotland TranServ, a Balfour Beattie and Mouchel joint venture, and the south west region by Amey. Both the north east and south east Scotland operating units are both managed by Bear Scotland, a consortium made up of Jacobs, Ennstone and the Ringway Group
Audit Scotland has also called for local authorities to make greater efforts to benchmark road maintenance activities with other councils and the private sector in order to drive out cost inefficiencies.
It adds: “Working together with other councils or the private sector to achieve economies of scale will become increasingly necessary if councils are to maintain service levels with reduced funding.”
The Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland has estimated that councils need to spend an additional £45M each year for the next decade to maintain local roads in their existing condition. Without this, the value of the local road network would decline by £1bn and the condition of these roads would worsen by 10%.
Auditor general for Scotland Robert Black said: “Members of the public are increasingly dissatisfied with the condition of our roads. The pattern of spending and scale of backlog means that the value of these public assets is not being sustained. But by deferring essential expenditure on infrastructure, public bodies are storing up problems for the future and passing a greater burden onto generations to come.”
Accounts Commission for Scotland chairman John Baillie added: “It is very disappointing to see the limited progress made to improve road maintenance since we last reported on this. A third of councils still need to develop road asset management plans, a fundamental requirement of good management. Far better information is needed on costs and performance. We recognise that some councils are working together to be more efficient, and we welcome these initiatives. However overall councils could be doing much more to get better value from the limited funding they have available.”
Responding to the report, a Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We note Audit Scotland’s report. Although it looks at the condition of trunk roads and the effects of construction inflation on available budgets, we welcome that it highlights much of the progress which Transport Scotland has made in how it efficiently and sustainably manages the trunk road network and gets better value from available budgets
“We will fully consider the findings of the report which clearly highlights the challenges for both local authorities and the Scottish Government in maintaining road networks being used by increasing levels of traffic.
“Maintaining the condition of our trunk road and motorway network is vital to the economy of Scotland and we will continue to carry out maintenance work on our trunk roads and motorways to ensure they are safe, despite the £1.3bn budget cut from Westminster.
“The Scottish Government is providing local government in Scotland with significant levels of funding and local authorities have the freedom and flexibility to allocate the total resources available to them based on local needs and priorities, including road improvements. For the first time Local Authorities have been allowed to keep their own efficiency savings to re-invest in services.”