Thursday, 21 January 2010

The politics of potholes

We are all seeing it, the huge levels of damage to tired road surfaces caused by the recent winter weather and the consequent burden on the local authority budgets. However a simple question springs to my mind and that is should the government be picking up some of the tab?

Why you may ask and here is the rub.

When Lord Adonis intervened and required Councils to stop gritting on all but the highest priority routes he did so under the guise that this was in effect a national emergency scenario. The consequence is that councils across the land cut back on their secondary gritting regime.

It is on these roads I focus my attention. Under normal conditions these would have been treated and damage significantly reduced as a result.

Now if we accept the argument that this was a national event it places it on a par with Foot and Mouth in 2001 or the 2007 Flooding. In both of these events the Belwin Formula was applied allowing Councils to claim back expenditure related to the incident.

By their intervention in a council duty there is a strong case to put that the damage to the network on the roads published as being gritted but which were not in order to protect the truck road network is a direct result of government action in a civil contingencies event. As such the Bellwin Formula should apply and we should be placing pressure on the government to ensure the consequences of their actions are not once again borne by the council tax budget


Anonymous said...

I won't comment on who should pay but in my view there needs to be a change in quality of construction and of aggregates used for less major roads.

They are no longer adequate for the level and weight of traffic using such roads.

In SE England in the aftermath of the recent bad weather I have seen many examples where there is not just a pothole but a large slice of the wearing course (the top course made of hot rolled asphalt and chippings) has separated from the underlying basecourse.

No - I'm not suggesting they all need to be dug up and replaced but as each such road comes up for repair it should be left in a better quality state than immediately after the last time it was repaired.

Matthew Huntbach said...

Local government has been urged again and again: "you must have some inefficiencies, we'll cut your funding and you find where they are".

The reality is that much of the burdens of the way our country is developing falls on local government. People living longer means more social care. More broken families means more social care. More rubbish means more refuse collection. More cars on the road means more road repairs. More government red tape and targets and initiatives - the whole "something must be done" mentality - means more bureaucrats to have to cope with it.

I say this because otherwise people will say "there have been no funding cuts". The reality is that anyone who supposes local government spending should rise at just general inflation rate is a fool. General inflation rate has been low because we export all our work to China to make things for us cheaply. We can't export teaching and social care and refuse collection etc to China. There are good reasons why a standstill budget would result in service deterioration. Anyone who understands modern life should be able to see that.

So, when local government is forced to make cuts, it will look round to see if it can find things where it won't hurt. Cutting back on long-term maintenance is a good one. Cutting back on contigencies for bad winters another, particularly when it can be argued "we don't get the cold and snow we used to, so we don't need to put by so much money to deal with the possibility we will get it this winter as we did in winters past".

This is why we are seeing potholes - the cuts mentality has ended the "stitch in times saves nine" mentality, the short term cuts to make the budget resulted in long term poorer roads and long term more cost than it would otherwise have been.

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