Staffordshire County Council has this week bucked national trends and announced plans to plough an extra £20M into improving its highways network.
Cabinet member for highways and transport Mike Maryon told NCE that the major cash injection into preventative work on roads and footpaths would lead to long term savings for taxpayers.
The £20M has been made available by closing several council offices and moving to a more cost effective HQ.
Common sense thinking
Maryon said investing more in highways when many other authorities were cutting back was simply “common sense thinking” and that money would be saved by maintaining roads now to prevent trouble later. The money will be spent over two years from April to increase preventative maintenance of roads.
“The last two years have seen swingeing government cuts,” said Maryon, adding that the entire government grant to Staffordshire will fall from £181M this year to £161M next year and again the year after. “When people say there will be an upturn in 2015/2016, I just don’t believe them. So it is just common sense that to maintain investment we need to find other sources of funding.”
Evidence of similar moves
Local highways authority body Adept president Matthew Lugg applauded the move and said there was increasing evidence of similar moves across England.
“The good news coming from politicians is that there is a better recognition of the importance of investment in highways maintenance,” he said.
“There has been a 27% cut in local authority revenue budgets across the board and we have got a deteriorating network, so there needs to be a way to plug the gap.
“We are all looking at opportunities.”
Lugg, who is currently a special adviser to the Department for Transport, supporting its Highways MaintenanceEfficiency Programme (HMEP), said better asset management was key to persuading councillors to invest.
Articulate the case
“Highways officers have got to sit down with council members and use asset management and transparent information to articulate their case.”
Lugg said the government’s prudential borrowing scheme, which allows councils to borrow against the value of their fixed assets, is proving popular.
Blackpool Council is using the approach to invest £30M over the next four years to repair 64km of carriageway.
Staffordshire has also used the approach, with its new cash boost coming on top of £30M it has already ploughed into highways through prudential borrowing since 2009. The investment means that there are fewer than 700 unrepaired potholes on its network.