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RAC FOUNDATION

There are times when the RAC Foundation may be at odds with local government, over parking policy for example, but where we are united is in calls to see more money provided by Whitehall to preserve one of the most important national assets we have: the road network.

Since the war traffic volume has increased ten-fold; the total length of roads in Great Britain barely at all. The consequences are plain to see. A growing burden on our highways that has led to increasingly pitted and rutted road surfaces that trouble not just car drivers, but also freight traffic, bikers, cyclists and pedestrians, and users of public transport.

It is unrealistic to think all the money raised in tax from road users will ever be used to repair potholes and the like, but four times more cash is currently collected in road fuel duty and Vehicle Excise Duty alone (VAT excluded) than is spent on the highways.

In a way the size of this gap would matter less if the overall sum allocated to roads was rising. But it isn’t. Over the past five years, spending – capital and maintenance – on all roads has fallen by more than a fifth in real terms (see recent RAC Foundation work). Unsurprisingly, the backlog of work needed to keep Britain moving lengthens.

Paying more attention to the state of the roads would make not just economic sense but also political sense. Most elected members, national and local, will tell you that their postbags are full of letters and emails bemoaning our crumbing roads. It is a picture replicated when you ask voters what they see as the transport priorities for government.

Faced with rising spending commitments because of things like social care and environmental obligations, and falling budgets, it is hard to see town and city halls themselves easily able to find the financial resources needed for roads. That is a job for ministers and we would hope they turn their attention to it long before 100 days are through.