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Spending review 2010: Local government braced for highway maintenance cuts

Local government budgets have been worst hit by the Comprehensive Spending Review, with spending set to fall by 26% over the next four years.

Councils are now scrambling to find efficiencies as they wait to discover the full extent of the cuts. This will be revealed in the Local Government Finance Settlement in early December. Some councils have already predicted their spending budgets, based on averages. They expect highways budgets to be hit hard.

The Local Government Group said the 28% cut in Department for Transport (DfT) grants to local authorities will leave local highway maintenance more vulnerable than the national roads funded directly by the DfT. “Further reductions in funding will lead to an increase in the maintenance backlog and a bigger requirement to invest in the long term,” said the group.

Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (Adept) former president Brian Smith said highway maintenance cuts
will present local authorities with difficult decisions.

Some councils will be able to make efficiencies through process changes and by outsourcing work, but others will be unable to afford work like pothole repairs, he said. “It’s an interesting point whether local authorities have done the planning and scaled down their programmes or whether they’ll have to make big cuts,” he said. “It’s an area where there’s pressure to spend more money, not less.”

Central Bedfordshire Council confirmed that it will seek £50,000 of savings from its Managing Agent Contract with Amey for highway services. The council said it will work with Amey to find efficiencies from professional and administrative services rather than frontline activity including road repairs.

A Dorset County Council spokesman said it was looking to make savings in transport and highways. “We will be concentrating on [keeping] the really essential maintenance, such as clearing drains and repairing potholes,” the council said.

“However, we must reduce some non-urgent work that we may have done routinely in the past.” Meanwhile, Essex County Council has consulted the public on where cuts should be made. Highways and transport infrastructure emerged as top priority for cuts. Devon County Council’s public consultation shows that its voters favour the “fix old roads, don’t build any new” option. They also want new cycle lane projects cut.

Dorset County Council said it had already identified £21M of savings but said it had to find another £28M. Somerset County Council is already planning to cut its road maintenance budget by £46M over three years.

The cuts: Examples

  • Dorset County Council £49M of cuts over the next three years
  • Cumbria County Council £50M to £60M by 2015
  • East Sussex County Council £60M over three years
  • Gwynedd Council £27.5M by 2015
  • Derbyshire County Council up to £120M over the next four years

Readers' comments (1)

  • Congratulations to Dorset for saying that it must keep up drainage maintenance and pothole filling, in southern Hampshire (subsoils frequently clay) one can often find 80% of the gulleys are solid with debris too often to the top of the grating. The net result is that the pipes from them are then being dug out rather than jetted. A regular, say six monthly, cleaning program would greatly help to identify gulleys with problems with their offtake pipes allowing early repair where there is failure but I suspect the majority is siltation just from neglect. The net effect is that the flooding on the carriageway surface is minimised and the roads foundations stay much drier, allowing less flexing of the carriageway structure with its very important water tight skin.

    The other big damaging force is the utilities who do not make an adequate financial compensation for any trench they dig. Perhaps if many thousand ICE members tried we might persuade our new Governments MPs to change the law so that adequate recompense to the highway owner is made for every trench.

    The failure to clean gulley traps also worsens the water quality discharged to natural water courses.

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