The UK has consistently reduced funding of road repairs, and the results are clear for anyone driving or riding on them.

Figures from the OECD – a group of 38 high income countries – show that just £2bn was spent in 2019 on UK local road maintenance compared to £4 billion in 2006 .

Sweden, Denmark, the United States, Japan and New Zealand have all increased spending by around half over the same period.

Countries including France, Finland and Canada have also protected pothole repair budgets unlike the UK Government.

Only Italy and Ireland have seen such similar drops in spending on local roads.

A national local issue

The Local Government Association (LGA) represents councils across England and Wales. It wants to work with Government on a devolved, long-term plan for our local roads. They want this to include greater and more consistent funding, putting investment in roads back up to the levels of other leading comparable countries.

When it comes maintaining motorways, the government currently spends 31 times more per mile on  than local roads.

Ahead of the next General Election, the LGA is calling on all political parties to pledge to a 10-year programme. Also called for is funding for local roads and local transport infrastructure boosted by devolving the equivalent of 2p of existing fuel duty.

This, it says, would help councils to reverse the current decline in road conditions.

Losing control

Despite additional funding delivered in the Budget this year, latest estimates from the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey found that councils face a record £14bn road repair backlog. This would take at least 11 years to tackle without further support. However, costs are rising continuously and the report is already out of date.

Rising levels of inflation has pushed up the cost of materials such as bitumen. More extreme winter weather has also made it harder for councils to tackle potholes and maintain local roads. There is a funding crisis which follows on from 13 years of austerity and budget cuts. The build up of essential repairs is preventing basic maintenance and the overall problems continue to increase. Poor road surfaces lead to road safety issues, with drivers and riders focusing more on avoiding potholes than other road users actions. There is also the increasing costs to motorists having to pay for expensive repairs to suspension, steering, tyres and wheels.

Crumbling infrastructures

“The UK has fallen from the top to almost the bottom of the league when it comes to the amount we spend on repairing our local roads,” says Cllr Shaun Davies, chair of the LGA.

“Decades of reductions in funding from central government to local road repair budgets has left councils facing the biggest ever annual pothole repair backlog.

“Positive extra funding in the recent Budget will help, but councils still face considerable challenges when trying to get on top of this pothole blight.

“In order to support motorists, the Government should take this opportunity to work with councils to develop a long-term, fully-funded programme to catch up with the backlog.

“Ultimately, all local transport decisions should be devolved to councils, who are best placed in determining what is a priority for their areas.

“This will allow councils not just to tackle potholes but make improvements to road surfaces, saving money in the long term and improving our roads for everyone who uses them.

“As well as this, we would urge all parties to commit to invest in our local road network at the next general election, which is so important to our residents and our business community.”

Where’s the plan

AIA chair Rick Green says that it is “no surprise” that the LGA analysis has found UK highway maintenance budgets at the low end of the OECD scale.

“The picture of managed decline reflects the findings of our Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey, which has reported for many years on local highways budgets under pressure and the resulting impact on road conditions,” explained Green.

“The link between continued underinvestment and the ongoing structural decline and below-par surface conditions of our local roads is clear.”

He added: “We support the LGAs call for committed investment in local roads and a longer-term approach.

“The AIA also believes that more local highway budget ringfencing is needed to ensure that funds are directed to the type of works that deliver the best value for money, lower lifetime carbon impacts as well as enhancing conditions and improving the resilience of the local road network.”

Transport infrastructure investment and maintenance spending
Country 2006 2011 2016 2019
New Zealand 100% 142% 137% 178%
Japan 100% 101% 118% 154%
United States 100% 114% 137% 152%
Austria 100% 100% 141% 152%
Korea 100% 108% 116% 151%
Sweden 100% 103% 143% 141%
Switzerland 100% 114% 122% 121%
France 100% 123% 109% 104%
Canada 100% 104% 93% 85%
Finland 100% 108% 89% 81%
United Kingdom 100% 75% 51% 51%
Italy 100% 46% 63% 51%
Ireland 100% 90% 47% 43%