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Highways Maintenance in England: Local Spending

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 24 November 2022

5. If the Government will take steps to prevent local authorities in England from spending money allocated for local highways maintenance on other purposes. (902382)

The Department for Transport allocates capital funding to local highways authorities so that they can most effectively spend it on maintaining and improving their respective local networks, based on local knowledge, circumstances and priorities. It is up to the highways authorities how they spend that funding to fulfil their duty under section 41 of the Highways Act 1980.

Is that not a rather complacent response? A lot of the £500 million allocated last year to local authorities in England for highway maintenance was not spent on highway maintenance, so it was effectively a fraud on taxpayers. Will my hon. Friend please ensure that next year, the allocations of money to highway authorities are made contingent upon them showing that last year’s allocation was spent on highways?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Local highways maintenance is a critical service provided by local authorities. In recognition of that, a central highways maintenance fund has an incentive element built in to drive best practice. However, it would be counterproductive for central Government to go beyond that and override local leaders, who have the best understanding of the needs of their local areas. This approach is in line with the wider Government funding framework led by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Does the Minister not agree that flexibility in budgets is important? At the moment, many of us in the road safety campaigning area are very worried about the lack of representation in this House on road safety and transport safety issues. Could local authorities with some of this extra cash not be encouraged to take road safety more seriously?

I thank the hon. Member for his question. Flexibility is important for local need, which is why local authorities are the decision makers in this area. If local people do not like what local authorities are doing, they can make a change to local priorities at the ballot box.