Northern Ireland budget cuts mean traffic light maintenance will be the only work carried out
The Budget Outlook 2018-2020 recently published by the finance department outlines the challenges for all government departments in the face of cuts to the Northern Ireland resource budget.
The Department for Infrastructure have indicated they will have to impose significant cutbacks on services and programmes.
In terms of roads, the resource budget amounts to some £138m.However, when committed amounts for Public Private Partnerships, salaries and wages, road drainage payments to NI Water and other expenditure is taken into consideration, there remains only a budget of some £19.8m in 2018-19 and £11m in 2019-20 for energy and maintenance costs.
To place this in context, a fully resourced service in these areas would cost £43m.
The consequences of the budget reductions would be that only traffic signals would be energised and maintained, with statutory electrical inspection and testing carried out.
There would be no routine roads and street lighting repairs outside of strategic trunk roads and motorways, with only a limited reactive response capability. This would mean no grass cutting, no gully emptying and no repair of almost all potholes.
In 2018-19 street lights could be kept on, but there would be no funding to provide a winter service (£4.5m), including salting and snow clearance.
In 2019-20 when the reduction in budget is considerably greater, all street lights, with the exception of those on motorways and strategic trunk roads, would have to be switched off. There would be no funding for a winter service.
In terms of public transport, due to reduced subsidy for bus and rail services since 2014-15, Translink has maintained the public transport network by sustaining annual losses of around £13m.
These losses have been covered by drawing on reserves, but there is limited capacity for this to continue beyond the 2019-20 financial year. There would be a requirement to significantly reduce the public transport network to ensure financial viability going forward. This would require a substantial reduction in service levels.
The impact on rural and community transport is equally serious. Service provision would continue in 2018-19 but savings of £2.2m in 2019-20 would require a fundamental change to the delivery of demand-responsive services including Dial-a-Lift services, the Disability Action Transport Scheme (DATS) and Shopmobility.
The consequences of reductions of this level are the reduction of some services to the disabled and those in rural areas and potential redundancies within the organisations.
Alarmingly the £1m budget reduction to road safety in each year will mean a complete cessation to all road safety advertising and other educational programmes.
In terms of capital, the budget is actually very healthy. The problem is that the Executive, before its collapse, signed off on and ring-fenced the funding for the flagship projects of A5, A6, Belfast Transport Hub, Desertcreat College and the New Maternity Hospital, leaving only £50m per year for the entire maintenance budget for roads, water, sewage and public transport.
Civil servants say they cannot change what ministers have agreed without a new minister being in place. What is being proposed will actually cost us tens of millions over the next few years as maintenance turns into reconstruction and our roads network deteriorates to an unacceptable and unsafe standard.
QPANI believe that the capital budget allocations are unbalanced with not enough priority given to maintaining the existing infrastructure we have.
Our roads network in NI is valued at some £35bn and is the largest and most valuable asset the public sector manages.
That roads network represents the veins and arteries through which the lifeblood of our economy runs. Our private, public and commercial transport sectors depend on it to transport products, people and services safely and efficiently.
Our lack of maintenance and development of our water and sewage infrastructure will impact on public safety, on new housebuilding and our clean water environment.
Even the department's preferred scenario will impact severely on our economy, the safety of road users and result in the loss of hundreds of skilled jobs among people who are charged with the maintenance of our infrastructure.
QPANI is calling for the highest political action to be taken to prevent these budget scenarios being adopted as a matter of urgency and on the basis of protecting public safety.
Gordon Best is regional director of the Quarry Products Association Northern Ireland (QPANI)