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Public accounts committee slams Department for Transport amid road user dissatisfaction

MPs have criticised the Department for Transport’s “unpredictable and fluctuating budgets” in a new report published today.

The report shows public satisfaction with road maintenance is at its lowest level since surveying began in 2008, with only 30 per cent of respondents satisfied with the state of the roads.

The public accounts committee report was also critical of the Department for Transport’s attitudes to budgets.

Report chair Margaret Hodge claimed it was “ludicrous” that the DfT had cut road maintenance budgets by £1.2bn over the four years from April 2011, while at the same time intermittently giving £1.1bn additional funding on nine separate occasions for various reasons, including in response to flooding or winter damage to the roads.

MPs argued the DfT should see “that prevention is better than cure” when it comes to road maintenance.

In April, the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance found that, despite authorities spending £106.7m filling potholes in 2012/13, the average annual budget shortfall per authority was as much as £5.1m.

The survey revealed that local authorities in England and Wales had a £713.7m shortfall in their annual road structural budgets, with those outside London more than twice as hard hit as the capital.

Ms Hodge said good understanding of the state of the roads was “absolutely essential” for planning cost-effective preventative maintenance but that there were “too many gaps in highways authorities’ information about what road infrastructure assets they have and what condition they are in”.

She said: “The Highway’s Agency holds no information on 70 per cent of its drainage systems, for example.

“Better information, better planning of funding and a proactive stance on maintenance are what the department must promote to have a chance of pleasing unhappy road users.”

The report makes a number of recommendations for improving road infrastructure, including working with local highway authorities to ensure they all develop appropriate data and understanding of their road infrastructure.

Civil Engineering Contractors Association chief executive Alasdair Reisner said: “For many years CECA has highlighted the need for greater visibility and certainty of funding for maintenance, strategically managing roads rather than patching up problems as they arise.

“We welcome the recommendations in today’s report which, if implemented, should deliver better value and better roads.”

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