Wednesday, 13 February 2013



Every Councillor needs to be on top of the pothole issue and pointing out how the council needs to act and act now to do something (specifically fill in the pothole being pointed out). We are assiduous in performing this vital task, keeping highways maintenance folk busy filling in said holes.

Then we troop into the council chamber and vote for budgets that cut spending on that vital task of highways maintenance. Local council's spend less than 5% of their revenue budget on looking after roads, pavements and footpaths. Which is down from 11% (and in actual cash terms more) in 2008.

This reflects the priority of government - national and local. The idea that looking after roads is an important function of government has long passed - even in the transport field the focus (and the spending) has been directed to railways. While we subsidise heavy rail to the tune of over £13 billion, national revenue spending on roads languishes at a mere £9 billion. And this priority - as ever - is reflected in the choices of local councils.

The odd thing is that most people, most of the time simply don't use trains. Even in London. Yet we all - whether we're drivers, bus users, cyclists or pedestrians - use the roads. Perhaps we have (in our obsession with hating the motor car and disliking the lorry) simply forgotten that it is roads that carry the lion's share of freight, that allow us to get from our front door to where we wish to go and that are the real lifeline of our economy.

That our roads - suburban, urban, trunk and rural - are riddled with potholes represents a colossal failure in government priority. We've allowed ourselves to be lulled by those green dressed sirens into accepting the wholly false premise that railways present any kind of solution to the transport needs of a modern economy. Railways merely take us from one place we don't want to be to another place we don't want to be - it's the roads that complete the journey.

Potholes are a symptom of misplaced priority not a failing of any system. We simply stopped spending money on roads. New schemes are evaluated on the basis of unwarranted environmental impact assessments meaning that, in almost every case, new roads don't meet criteria. And councils faced with tight budget settlements choose to spend on social services for the minority of residents rather than roads for everyone. And there's a reason for this of course.

Those social services carry an enormous risk - whether we're speaking of the terrible child death or the dreadful story of elderly neglect this always trumps you or I getting a broken car as a result of a pothole. So we pour money into social services - as it happens nearly all of the grant we get from central government (education aside) ends up being spent on social services. And the result of this is that we spend less and less money on looking after the roads we all use.

With the result being potholes that us councillors can point at, take action about, get sorted!


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