Monday 28 March 2016

And The ALARM Bells Won't Let Up

The Asphalt Industry Alliance has released it's 2016 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey and it is predicable enough in that our local roads are not improving.

As ever, I recommend you read the full report yourself, but the headlines are not surprising. I should be clear that the report only covers England and Wales, so apologies to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The headline figure for the one-off investment to bring things up to a reasonable standard is £11.8bn, slightly down from £12.2bn last year, although when we are talking about such vast sums, it's not much of an improvement. So, let's have a quick look at the other headlines (taken from the summary which I have broken down). I like this year's format, although it makes it a little trickier to compare with previous years.

The percentage of authorities responding is up from 52% last year to 56% which means the figures remain pretty representative in my view. Budgets are up a little in London and Wales, but this is to the detriment of England and overall, budgets are down. Around half of maintenance budgets are spent on carriageways, although there are lots of other things which need maintaining and so I am not sure how this really helps as a metric. Overall, carriageway budgets are down.

On shortfalls, the headline one-time catch up figure is down a little as is the length of time needed to clear the backlog, but the picture remains pretty static to be honest

This extends to the amount of work done (in terms of the government's favourite silly statistic of potholes filled), although the length of time to resurface an average road is down too. Again, the changes are small and so trends can't really be pulled out of the data.

On claims, London is paying out a little more overall and Wales a little more per claim, but overall, the total payout and costs associated with claims are down.

* England, London & Wales
** Excluding London

What we are seeing is that local authorities continue to improve efficiency (doing more with less), but they have been doing this for a long time and we are now in the realms of marginal gains. They probably know more about the condition of their network than ever before and there is more cross-authority collaboration than ever before.

The reality is that we are standing still and we still have a huge highway maintenance backlog. As the Chancellor continues to hammer local government, funding is being taken out of highway maintenance and put into other areas, but at the same time, national funding is being put into the strategic road network (through Highways England and also through the Welsh Government, both looking a motorway expansion). For local roads, where people live and work, the outlook remains grim as we juggle to paper of the cracks of a failing asset. 


  1. What would you think of making most dual carriageways and motorways toll roads like in France or Italy? I'd imagine that at 10-15 p a kilometre, or .16-.24 p a mile, for a 25 mile commute, that would raise 4-6 quid a commute. Assume 25k trips a day like that on a particular road, you'd raise 100-150k quid a day, even assuming that you needed a quarter of that for the cost of enforcing the toll, it would still be a fair amount of money.

  2. I suggest that you go ahead and read the SWOV's 216 page (yes, really is that long) on Advancing Sustainable Safety. It made major changes in my outlook on road safety, and quite likely will do the same with you. I also suggest making your subordinates read it and put a copy of it on each of your superiors' desks.