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MPs hit at 'stop-go' road funding

The Department for Transport's "stop-go" approach to funding is making it difficult to maintain England's road network cost-effectively, MPs have warned.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the Department for Transport (DfT) slashed the roads maintenance budget, only to have to make repeated emergency injections of cash to deal with fall-out from floods and other problems.

Since maintenance budgets were cut by £1.2 billion over four years from April 2011, the committee said the DfT has had to provide extra funding on nine occasions, totalling £1.1 billion.

Compensation payouts for damages caused by poor road conditions cost £31.6 million last year alone, while public satisfaction with the state of the roads was at its lowest level since surveys began in 2008.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: "The department's piecemeal and stop-go approach to funding for road maintenance in recent decades has made it difficult for highways authorities to maintain roads cost-effectively.

"There has been too much reactive work in response to flooding and other events and not enough focus on preventative work that is less expensive in the long term."

A DfT spokesman said: "We are absolutely committed to tackling potholes on local roads, which is why we have increased funding by more than 27% in this parliamentary term compared with the last one - £10 billion between 2010 and 2021. We encourage councils to undertake more planned preventative maintenance to be more efficient in how they tackle problems.

"We have committed to spending £24 billion on our strategic road network up to 2021 - the biggest investment in our roads since the 1970s - and we are reforming roads funding so that it is stable and guaranteed.

"But we also make no apology for responding to unforeseen circumstances, such as the additional £180 million we have provided to help councils deal with damage caused by severe weather."

Peter Box, the Local Government Association's transport spokesman, said: "Decades of underfunding by Whitehall and recent severe winters have left large swathes of our roads in disrepair.

"As the committee rightly recognises, this is leaving councils trapped in an endless cycle of only being able to patch up our deteriorating network. Councils need increased and consistent funding."

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