Opinion | the gap left has to be a concern
Peter Martin deputy leader of Surrey CC expresses his concerns on Government funding
Like many county councillors I often ask residents on their doorsteps what their priorities are. Time and again roads come top.
Surreys £30bn economy is second only to London and we have the third busiest roads network outside the capital so we know how important it is to keep improving our streets.
We have made long-term planning the cornerstone of our roads policy inspired by the success of our five-year Operation Horizon programme. The programme aims to tackle the root cause of road damage cuts how often repairs are needed and has ploughed £3m of savings back into frontline services.
The Department for Transport (DfT) also used Surrey CC as one of just two examples nationwide to follow when it launched the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP)
Papering over the cracks is not what we are after. When we asked Government for help with Surreys £23m urgent roads repair bill after some of Englands worst flooding we got £5.3m. While we will never sniff at Government money the gap left has to be a concern.
The problem arises because the DfT doesnt factor in local traffic levels the expense of replacing busier roads or how efficient a councils highways team is instead it comes down to how long the authoritys road network is. This is tough news for a relatively small county like Surrey which nonetheless has a very busy road network.
We thought these rules needed changing so I enlisted the help of the vastly-experienced former trade minister and Surrey resident Lord Trefgarne to ask roads minister Robert Goodwill in person. We pointed out how the rules were too simple and did not reflect how heavy Surrey traffic is.
To his credit the minister accepted that DfT funding needed to be fairer in future and will consult this summer on improving the rules. Some might think ‘fairer’ automatically means more money for all councils but theyd be wrong.
Mr Goodwill made it clear in our meeting that the councils considered deserving will get more money and those labelled undeserving will get less.
This policy shift wont happen in time to change how much councils like Surrey get from the Governments £168m so-called pothole fund that is due to be allocated soon.
But it does mean that anyone in local government who thinks they can rest on their laurels and pocket decent roads funding could get a bit of a shock.
Even the pothole fund hints at a sterner Government attitude towards council grants as the DfT wants a kind of itemised bill afterwards to show how wisely authorities have spent the money.
In our meeting last week the minister offered roads authorities a carrot. Make no mistake; well all have to work harder to avoid the stick.