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Road cuts 'will cost taxpayer more'

The decision to cut the road maintenance budget will cost the taxpayer more in the long term, a committee of MPs has found.

Motorists will also have to pay more to fix their cars because essential repairs are not being carried out on the country's roads, the Public Accounts Committee said.

It also criticised the Department for Transport's claims that Network Rail was a private company, when it hands it £3 billion a year in taxpayer grants. Network Rail needs to be more transparent and accountable to the taxpayer, the committee said.

Margaret Hodge, the committee's chairman, said there were still many "unanswered" questions about the DfT's budget cuts. She said: "The department doesn't fully understand what impact its cuts to road maintenance will have on the state of the UK's roads.

"My committee is concerned that short-term budget cutting could prove counter-productive, costing more in the long term as a result of increased vehicle damage and the higher cost of repairing the more severe road damage.

"Another area which concerns us is rail spending. Rail budgets aren't being reduced as much as other areas, yet passengers still face high fares. The department needs to understand why the cost of rail travel is so high and understand better what scope there is for further efficiencies."

Ms Hodge added: "It is unacceptable that Network Rail is still not fully transparent or accountable to Parliament or the taxpayer. The department hands Network Rail over £3 billion each year and underwrites debt of over £25 billion, and yet maintains the fiction that this is a private sector company.

"The National Audit Office must be allowed full audit access as quickly as possible to this organisation which is essentially kept afloat through public funds."

AA president Edmund King said: "The AA has seen an increase in the number of call-outs due to tyres, suspension and steering problems which could all be linked to potholes. As drivers are paying billions of pounds in various motoring taxes, they expect to be able to drive on main roads bereft of potholes.

"The last thing we want is a vicious circle where the declining state of roads leads to more claims for compensation due to damage and injury, which in turn means less spending on roads."

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