A shock £400m cut to the cash available to mend potholes has sparked anger and fears of a return to austerity for local councils.
The Conservative-led County Councils Network (CCN) accused the government of breaking its promises – as research showed a repairs backlog is leaving holes on roads for up to four months.
“The government has given with one hand and taken with the other, as the overall funding pot for roads maintenance will fall £398m compared to last year,” said Cllr Barry Lewis, the group’s economic growth spokesperson.
“Unless further funding is made available, our councils will have no choice but to reduce their roads maintenance work this coming year.”
The criticism came after the Department for Transport (DfT) announced a £500m pot to repair local roads in Englandin 2021-22, saying that the money could fill the equivalent of 10 million potholes.
It forms the second instalment of a dedicated £2.5bn five-year ‘potholes fund’ which was announced in the budget last year.
But the CCN pointed out that overall funding for road improvements – including pothole filling – had plunged to £1.385bn from £1.783bn, a fall of £398m.
Cllr Lewis, a Conservative, said tackling the road repairs backlog was “crucial to levelling up”, Boris Johnson’s election-winning slogan.
“Councils are already facing unfunded additional costs from contractual arrangements due to the pandemic, while reducing planned works will negatively impact local employment and the economic recovery,” he warned.
County councils were hit hardest by the cuts, facing “an average decline in capital grant of 22 per cent next year, a total of £285m”.
Potholes are acknowledged to be potentially deadly for cyclist, while damaging shock absorbers, suspension springs and wheels in vehicles.
The recent cold weather threatens to worsen the situation because, when water enters the ground and freezes, it expands and creates bigger holes in the road surface.
Research published by GoCompare, the price comparison website – from information supplied by 50 councils – found an average of 20 days between reports being logged and work completed.
But the wait was much longer in Stoke-on-Trent (126 days), Cornwall (99 days) and Southampton (90 days). Liverpool told researchers it took more than a year to repair potholes in 2019.
The CCN said county councils had been “planning highways work based on an expected level of funding and many have published plans for the next year”.
The cuts would leave them with “no choice but to reduce investment next year, cancelling high priority planned works”.
Many councils did “not have the ability to borrow significant amounts to offset losses next year and maintain this essential planned investment”.