Budget cuts force rural councils to resort to short term road repairs

Article date: 29 March 2011

  • Nine in 11 rural councils have switched to short-term road repairs due to budget cuts
  • Third harsh winter in a row has resulted in further road deterioration across the country
  • RAC patrols say callouts due to poor road conditions have increased by 25%.

A survey of 20 UK councils1 by RAC has revealed that road conditions across the country continue to decline as the impact of Government budget cuts has forced many councils to undertake short-term repairs rather than fund permanent solutions.

Twelve of the 20 councils questioned, including nine in rural areas, reported that the focus of their road maintenance strategy has now switched to short-term repairs in order to fill more potholes caused by the harsh winter.

RAC’s research found that almost six months since the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), budgetary worries are adversely affecting a number of councils. Some councils are protecting road budgets using new private schemes and others are supplementing money from central Government with extra spending. This is despite an additional £100 million funding pledged by the Government in the Budget on top of the £100 million announced last month.

  • Eight out of 20 councils have reported reductions in road maintenance budgets.
  • A further two councils have resorted to using extraordinary funds such as council reserves to attempt to cover the shortfall caused by cutbacks in Government grants.
  • Another two councils have set up private finance initiatives (PFIs) to ring fence highway maintenance budgets from Government cuts.
  • The largest reported cutback in road maintenance budget was £5.8 million for one urban council which also expressed concern about driver safety. This council alone has a backlog of £160 million in road repairs.

The lack of available funds has meant a downward spiral for road quality as repairs from winter 2009/10 have not yet been carried out by all councils, leading to further deterioration from the latest poor weather conditions:

  • Half of councils questioned said that, heading into winter 2010/11, they had not yet completed repairs resulting from the cold snap from the previous year.
  • Eleven of the 20 councils reported their roads to be in a poor or mixed condition.
  • Three quarters (15) of the councils reported accelerated road deterioration as a result of the most recent widespread freeze in December 2010, with several councils reporting particular concerns about frost heave – the lifting and cracking of road surfaces over a large area.

These findings are supported by research among RAC patrols2 who reported a 25% increase in callouts resulting from potholes and poor road conditions over the past 12 months:

  • 85% of patrols said wheel and tyre damage was the most common problem caused by potholes
  • 70% of patrols said damage to suspension was the second most common problem caused by the poor quality of the roads
  • Steering (24%), windscreen (10%) and body (7%) damage were also common reasons for call outs due to the deteriorating condition of the roads.

In addition, 89% of patrols said the condition of rural roads was poor while 82% categorised suburban roads as poor.

A spokesperson for a rural council in England said: “After this winter's cold snap, the roads are back to square one. We aimed to fill potholes within 24 hours but this did not happen due to the lack of available road gangs. Cold weather and continued underinvestment in roads means that conditions will get worse and worse and worse. Safety is paramount but we are aware that we will have to squeeze funding as tightly as possible and that it still won’t reach all areas.”

Adrian Tink, RAC motoring strategist said: "It's been a tough year for both the roads and the local councils manfully trying to repair them. Both have suffered from a harsh winter and budget cuts. The reality is that we're left with a downward spiral of worsening road surfaces and councils playing catch-up with less resources to do the job. In that situation it is understandable that councils are opting for cheaper but more short-term repairs to the road surface.

“Unfortunately that is cold comfort to drivers, who are paying record amounts of motoring taxation for what is a worsening service in return. We're also seeing increasing amounts of damage to cars as a result of potholes which means there is a road safety issue to consider here. Hitting a pothole at even a relatively low speed can easily damage a tyre or cause a car to veer into a dangerous situation.

“We know public finances are tight, but our economy is based around the roads, and the Government need to ensure they have the right level of investment to ensure they are fit for purpose  - a state we are clearly some way off."


For further information, please contact:

John Franklin
RAC Press Office: 01603 680795: john.s.franklin@aviva.co.uk

Suman Hughes/Hugh Murphy
The Wriglesworth Consultancy: 020 7427 1400: s.hughes@wriglesworth.com

1 In depth research of a geographical spread of 20 councils in England, Wales and Scotland (11 rural and 9 urban) undertaken in February and March 2011 by Wriglesworth Research on behalf of RAC. The 20 councils represent 10% of the 206 councils nationwide.

2 Based on a survey of 343 RAC patrolmen conducted in February.

Notes to editors:

About RAC

  • With around seven million customers, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists.  Whether it's roadside assistance, insurance, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able to meet motorists' needs.
  • RAC is committed to providing the very highest levels of service to its customers and has been ranked first for customer satisfaction by J D Power and Associates' UK Roadside Assistance Study for the last four years. RAC was also the top-named breakdown organisation in the July 2009, January 2010 and July 2010 half-yearly UK Customer Satisfaction Index from the Institute of Customer Service.
  • RAC awarded a Which? Best Buy for Breakdown Cover – August 2010
  • RAC Insurance has also been awarded the Best Overall Vehicle Insurance Provider 2010/11 by themoneypages.com
  • RAC is part of Aviva, the world's sixth largest* insurance group, serving 53 million customers across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.
  • RAC's news releases and a selection of images are available from the internet press centre at www.rac.co.uk/press-centre/
  • Follow us on twitter: www.twitter.com/RAC_Breakdown
  • Follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/RAC

*based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009

Back to top