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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Bumpy solutions to road maintenance cuts

You may be surprised to hear that Scotland's local roads are improving. If you're worried that your eyes and back muscles are deceiving you, dont worry - the're not! All those potholes and bumps are real, whatever the official statistics might say.

Audit Scotland has published a report ‘Maintaining Scotland’s Roads’. This is an audit of progress by councils on the 2011 report that called for a new approach to road maintenance, including asset plans and greater use of shared services between councils. The National Road Maintenance Review has been in operation for two years and Audit Scotland clearly believes faster progress is required. They want to see better data, stronger asset management plans and greater centralisation of services.

However, when you look at the detail in the report a different picture emerges. The key metrics include:

“The percentage of local roads in acceptable condition has increased marginally from 66.1 to 66.7 per cent over the last two years, despite a reduction in roads maintenance spending from £492 million in 2009/10 to around £400 million in 2010/11 (a 21 per cent reduction in real terms).”

The idea that road surfaces have improved the past two years will come as something of a surprise to motorists and cyclists! Indeed the evidence paints a different picture:

• council payments to compensate drivers for pothole damage have risen, from around £340,000 in 2007/08 to £1.2 million in 2011/12

• Forty-five per cent of local roads users in Scotland consider roads condition to be poor, very poor or terrible, the worst rate in the UK.

• Scotland is perceived to have more potholes per mile than any other region in the UK, and more worn or faded roads markings.

• Drivers in Scotland are more likely to report pothole damage, with 44 per cent saying their cars had been damaged at some point over the last two years.

The reality is that cutting budgets by a fifth means that councils are being forced to adopt patch and mend methods rather than proper repairs. Members tell us that local road surfaces designed for 15 years are being stretched to almost 50 years. If local roads were funded on the same scale as trunk roads, much more could be done.

Any new format for roads asset management plans, or calls for more or different data on the roads - or indeed if any proposals emerge for structural change – is just tinkering around the edges. It is the scale of the cutbacks which is the issue and people can see and feel the bumpy roads on a daily basis.

Sadly, this is just another example of local government cuts. You can patch and mend in departments for a few years, but we are simply creating longer term problems.

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