The Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey produced by the Asphalt Industry Alliance makes for interesting reading.
The survey was conducted with highways departments within Local Authorities across England and Wales. Among other areas, the report suggests that the cost of dealing with road user compensation claims relating to potholes has fallen, with their figures falling dramatically from £8.1m in 2020 to £3.6m in 2021. This is combined with a fall in the corresponding staff costs from £14.7m in 2020, down to £11.4m.
Ultimately, the reason for the decline in costs is likely to be multifaceted. That said, this is more than a little intriguing bearing in mind that the survey also reported that the number of individual claims actually rose from 491 to 579 across England and Wales.
Regardless, in what has been an especially difficult and traumatic year, the report paints a picture of welcome consistency for the highway network of England and Wales. This is despite previous fears that Covid-19 could significantly impact on staffing levels and statutory service. In fact the amount of potholes filled over the year actually increased in comparison to the previous year to a total of 1,674,236.
Whilst the report makes encouraging reading for Local Authorities and other stakeholders, it is worth noting that maintaining the UK road network is of course a continuous project. Although there has been a significant increase in the budget for road works, it is evident that a significant amount of this fund has come from central government by way of short-term funds. At the risk of stating the obvious, these funds are not guaranteed. The financial security of the highway network of England and Wales, and by association, Local Authorities’ exposure to liability claims, remains an uncertain, political, consideration.