Scottish road repairs: Slow progress on backlog

ROADS chiefs are failing to tackle a repairs backlog fast enough, with little improvement in the past two years, public spending watchdogs report today.

No updated cost estimate of the repairs backlog was included, but it was put at £1.73 billion in 2011. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Accounts Commission has criticised Scottish councils for not acting more quickly on its 2011 recommendations to improve road maintenance.

It said one-third of local, or non-trunk, roads remained in an unacceptable condition, only 0.6 of a percentage point better than in 2011, as The Scotsman revealed in March.

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The proportion is also higher than it was nine years ago, when it was 30.4 per cent.

No updated cost estimate of the backlog was included, but it was put at £1.73 billion in 2011.

The report covered all roads except motorways and trunk roads such as the A1 and A9, which are the responsibility of Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland.

Audit Scotland judged that 22 per cent of such roads were in an unacceptable state in 2010.

The commission acknowledged that road maintenance spending had been cut by one- fifth to £400 million between 2009 and 2010, with councils subsequently viewing the improved state of their roads as a “significant achievement”.

However, it said council pay-outs to drivers for pothole damage had more than trebled in the five years to 2011 to £1.2m.

The commission said only half of Scotland’s 32 councils had drawn up improvement strategies by the end of 2011, as it recommended, although all of them now had one in place.

It said local authorities must also prioritise where the greatest improvements could be made.

The report said: “While we recognise that councils are facing budget constraints, there is a need to increase the pace of progress in improving roads condition.”

Commission chairman John Baillie said: “There is a lot still to do. A well-maintained roads network is essential for all of us to get around in our daily lives and for economic prosperity.

“Tighter budgets mean councils have to make tough choices across the board, but this is about making better use of the resources they already have.”

Motoring groups said the report showed the problem had still to be tackled properly. Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “We’ve been playing catch-up with our roads for years. The make do and mend approach simply isn’t working.

“We depend on our roads, whether for food deliveries to supermarkets, school buses or commuting to work. Poor infrastructure damages the economy.”

Conservative transport spokes man Alex Johnstone said: “The public expect their taxes to be spent on delivering roads that are safe to travel on, but in many areas this is still not the case.”

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said improved road conditions had been a “tremendous achievement” in the face of bad weather and budget cuts.