Roddy Graham's blog: 30 March 2012 - Return of the black hole
30 March 2012
Roddy Graham is commercial director of Leasedrive Group and Chairman of the ICFM.
Back to one of my pet subjects - black holes - not the mysterious kinds, just those chassis-shaking, bone jarring ones we encounter ever more frequently on our roads today. Apparently, England alone is facing an 11-year backlog on repairing them at a cost of £10bn.
Last year, local councils filled 1.7 million potholes. But, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance, its survey revealed that two-thirds of local councils had failed to bring roads under their authority even back up to pre-winter standards, which isn't saying a lot about the latter!
That means that a fifth of the roads in England will be in need of urgent repair within the next five years at a cost of £10bn.
Where the money is going to come from God only knows. And against this backdrop the Highways Agency, which is only responsible for ten per cent of the road network, has already shelled out £2.5m in compensation in a single year by way of compensation for vehicle damage and personal injuries. One can only imagine the bills being faced by local councils for similar claims!
With public sector finances being squeezed ever tighter, the prospect for the future looks bleak to say the least.
Before the March 21 Budget, the Coalition Government revealed it was to seek private investment for creating and maintaining some major roads in this country. The idea was bold, unoriginal and well short on detail.
Toll-roads on the Continent are de rigeur in many countries with drivers accepting they need to pay if they want to get from A to B in double-quick time. However, with prices at the pumps at an all-time high, a planned fuel duty increase going ahead in August, I doubt very much whether drivers and fleets have much of an appetite to spend even more on driving around this small island.
If we had a proper transport infrastructure that served the needs of our economy, ran smoothly on time on a daily basis and demonstrated tangible value to users in terms of time saved, smooth transfer and economic value then businesses and private tax payers would be more prepared to dig deeper into their pockets.
However, a bit like local councils' 'sticking plaster' approach to road repair, we've seen it and heard it all before from Government and remain cynically unconvinced that it has the intelligence and determination to drive through major infrastructure changes.
Interestingly, Chancellor George Osborne has declared we will all receive, as taxpayers, a transparent account at each tax year end of where the taxes we have paid on our hard earned money has been spent. If we are to get true transparency, then Government needs to state quite clearly what it has received in terms of road tax, fuel duty, Benefit-in-Kind on company cars etc., directly related to motoring and how much of that money has gone back into new roads, road maintenance, road safety, etc. Now that will be a much bigger black hole than we are accustomed to encountering on our daily journeys. The gulf between the two will be staggering and Government should be held to account.