Analysis: ADEPT chair sees new dawn for local roads

24/11/2023

Mark Stevens, assistant director, direct services at Haringey Council and chair of the ADEPT Engineering Board, considers how local highway authority officers will react to the £8.3bn for local highway maintenance. Gamechanger or spin?

On the face of it, the injection of an additional £8.3bn into local highway maintenance could prove to be transformative for local highway authorities, the broader highways sector – supporting both traditional road maintenance techniques and associated emerging technology – and the wider public, who could have safer roads to travel on.

As every journey starts and ends on a local road, any additional funding is welcomed because virtually everyone benefits.

The potential scale of the overall £8.3bn investment is significant as, in the fullness of time, it will address part – but not all – of the identified highway maintenance backlog, which particularly in recent years has been growing at a worrying rate.

Between 2015-16 and 2020-21, the annual investment in local highway maintenance across the country (excluding London) was just under £1bn.

It wasn’t enough and didn’t account for the impact of inflation or increases in road length over time. But what that six-year funding arrangement brought to local authorities was a degree of financial stability and the opportunity to take a longer-term asset management approach across all forms of highway infrastructure – not just roads.

There were intermittent injections of capital funding that saw that £1bn topped up to varying levels, although that was sometimes allocated with short delivery periods in late autumn, thereby creating problems with in-year delivery.

 

In 2020/21 (the first year of the £2.5bn highway maintenance ‘pothole fund’ top-up over five years), the total allocated was £1.65bn, which raised hopes that the country’s highway maintenance need had finally been recognised.

But there was a complete lack of clarity about the following year until the 2020 Autumn Statement - let’s not forget we were all in the midst of COVID-19 at that stage, with no real indication as to when ‘normality’ would return.

So, as feared/predicted by some, the 2021/22 total funding fell away to £1.125bn (if only London is excluded from the funding calculation to ‘compare apples with apples’) – and the one-year allocation perpetuated uncertainty.

We are now in the middle year of a three-year allocation of a continuing (comparing apples with apples) £1.125m per year (or £915m from the perspective of authorities outside of London and City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement).

The £200m ‘pothole fund' this year was also welcomed but nonetheless viewed as ‘a drop in the ocean’.

So, why would I or any other local highway authority officer consider that the latest announcement is a gamechanger rather than spin?

Well, the ‘size of the prize’ at £8.3bn is substantial. A welcome change is that London boroughs will actually see some much-needed financial benefit.

Although the announcement has come in November, local authorities will generally have already been told officially of their allocations for this and next financial year, rather than just being given an indicative sum on the gov.uk website.

So, essentially we all know what we have for next financial year, four months in advance, which allows programme adjustments.

I’m optimistic that there is a real prospect of funding allocations ramping up over time as the message has been fed into the Department for Transport from all quarters of the highways sector for years that more money is needed over a longer period than 12 months.

That is so the industry can approach the future with confidence, growing its workforce by bringing in ‘fresh blood’ with the confidence that this is a growing rather than a shrinking sector.

The notion of low-level flatlining with a final surge in the last year or two of the 11-year period doesn’t really help anyone other than conspiracy theorists! What would be even worse than that would be to front-load the funding and then fail to deliver.

It would not be unreasonable to assume that, going forward, we retain a government funding baseline of £915m/£1.125m (comparing apples with apples or pears, whatever is your fruit preference) – and I think that this baseline would have been higher before now, had it not been for COVID-19.

Local authorities are already putting in their own funding to prevent their highway networks completely falling apart and will manage their respective capital programmes to profile based on this year's £200m pothole top-up, not being there next year.

The sooner we all know what our allocations are from 2025-26 onwards, the better – so we can all maximise the financial benefits that the additional funding can bring as soon as possible.

I don’t believe this a false dawn – it’s the start of brighter days ahead but the sun might just take a little while to come up.

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue

ALSO INSIDE:

  • Traffex A new stage for the UK’s festival of transport
  • Contract leagues: 2023 champions revealed
View the latest issue


Highways jobs

Waste Loading Operative - CMB877e

£23,893
You will work as part of a team of front-line Waste staff, providing refuse collection, recycling and environmental cleansing services. Cumbria
Recruiter: Cumberland Council

Street Lighting Electrician

Grade 8, £31,372 - £34,949
We are passionate about Doncaster - it’s a great place to live, do business and visit. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: City Of Doncaster Council

Waste and Recycling Apprentice

£5.28 per hour/£10,158 per annum (from 1st April 2023)
There’s never been a more exciting time to join Doncaster Council. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: City Of Doncaster Council

City Region Sustainable Transport Settlements Delivery Lead

£51,997
Are you keen to develop these skills further as a major part of the Government’s approach to economic growth and levelling up? Birmingham, West Midlands
Recruiter: Department for Transport

Officer Traffic Control Centre OCC609561

£29,269 - £32,076 per annum
This role in our team supports the movement of traffic across Oxfordshire by responding to both planned and unplanned events. Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Assistant Auditor (Apprentice) - OCC614969

£26,873 - £28,770 per annum
Each role at OCC is different and we know the needs of individuals are also varied Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Technical Lead - SUDs drainage engineer - OCC614854

£47,420 - £50,512 per annum
Please note we are actively looking at our ways of working using everything we have learnt and heard from our employees. Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

3x Assistant Transport Development Officer - OCC614613

£29,269 - £32,076 per annum
Oxfordshire County Council’s Transport Development Management team has a prime role in creating high-quality, sustainable places Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Principal ECC NEC Site Supervisor OCC53491

£42,821 - £45,859 per annum
You will lead a team of NEC Supervisors in the supervision of the delivery of a varied range of major highway projects. Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Assistant Officer (Operations) - OCC614653

£26,873 - £28,770 per annum
The Network Management Service includes three teams
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Senior Engineer

£44,428 - £47,420
This is an exciting time to be a Senior Engineer within the Transportation Infrastructure Service. Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior Officer (Structural Engineering) - OCC613924

£47,420 - £50,512 per annum
It is an exciting time to join Oxfordshire County Council’s Highways team. Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Highways Technician

£29,777 - £33,945
Professional/Technical job holders rely upon their deep knowledge of the specialism or discipline Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
Recruiter: Milton Keynes Council

Workshop Engineer

Grade 7 Level 1 - 4 (£29,230 - £31,391) plus 3 hours per week contractual overtime
The City of York Council’s Fleet team have an exciting opportunity for a Workshop Engineer. York, North Yorkshire
Recruiter: City of York Council

Operational Manager (Highway Structures) - OCC613920

£64,419 - £67,663 per annum
It is an exciting time to join Oxfordshire County Council’s Highways team. Oxfordshire
Recruiter: Oxfordshire County Council

Business Partner - Fleet Management - WMF914e

£44,428 - £45,441
This is an exciting and unique opportunity to assist in the delivery of a new Fleet Services Team for the Council. Cumbria
Recruiter: Westmorland and Furness Council

HGV Technician

£33,024 - £35,745
We are currently looking to recruit an experienced HGV technician, to join our in-house maintenance operation based in Hellaby, Rotherham. Rotherham, South Yorkshire
Recruiter: Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

Senior Planning Officer (572806)

PO2/PO3 - £37,336 pa - £43,421 pa
Bradford and its’ extensive district is an award winning, cultural destination and one of the youngest, most vibrant places in the country. Bradford, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: City of Bradford MDC

Senior Highways Network Technician WMF919e

£32,076 - £33,024
Westmorland and Furness Council, Highways and Transport service, are looking for an experienced, motivated, and friendly individual. Cumbria
Recruiter: Westmorland and Furness Council

Development Management Officer (078389)

£32,076 Per Annum to £35,745 Per Annum
Have you got an interest in continuing or developing a career in Highways Engineering? North Yorkshire / Hybrid
Recruiter: North Yorkshire Council

Highways Presents

 


Latest Video