The government gave motorists an early Christmas present on Tuesday in the shape of £6 billion in extra funding for councils to fill in potholes on the nation’s roads. Councils will also be able to bid for a share of an additional £575 million to pay for repairs to infrastructure such as junctions, bridges and street lights, £578 has also been set aside to reward councils who demonstrate ‘value for money’ in carrying out improvements.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the BBC the funding on offer was enough to pay for 18 million potholes to be filled, saying it was ‘part of our long term economic plan to ensure we have a transport network fit for the twenty first century.’
The Local Government Association ‘welcomed’ the extra funding, but, said a spokesman there was still ‘a very long way to go’ when it comes to improving the standard of Britain’s roads. He went on to say, also speaking to the BBC, that though ‘helpful’ the money on offer ‘does not bridge the funding gap which is increasing year on year.’
The Institution of Civil Engineers described the money as a ‘welcome boost’, but, their spokesperson said, with ‘catch up’ costs totaling £12 billion ‘a significant gap will still remain in local authority revenue budgets.’
Shadow transport Secretary Michael Dugher told the BBC ‘local roads are in a desperate state under David Cameron’ adding that ‘hard pressed motorists and businesses are justifiably sick and tired of having their vehicles damaged because of Britain‘s pothole crisis.’
The trouble with Christmas presents, early or otherwise, is that they tend to look much less impressive when examined in the cold light of Boxing Day morning, that’s pretty much the case here.
On the face of it £6 billion looks like a lot of money, but when spread over more than a hundred local authorities over six years it is really little more than enough to pay for the pothole problem to be, literally, skimmed over. As for the £578 million set aside to reward councils for providing ‘value for money’ given the demands on their shrinking budgets it is hard to see how any could earn a share, unless they interpret value for money as meaning penny pinching; another exciting perverse incentive brought to you thanks to austerity.
Maybe it is time to see the pothole problem as one we can never solve so long as traffic volumes continue to rise and see this as an opportunity to invest in public transport. That probably got you spitting out your leftover turkey, the received wisdom being after all that we love our cars and hate busses.
The thing with the received wisdom is that it often fails to tell the whole story, what we dislike and with good reason isn’t public transport as such; it’s the costly, threadbare and inefficient services we often have to put up with. After all Britain is a small country, there is no need for people to drive everywhere and it would probably be a much nicer place of most of us didn’t.
Just imagine if, for example, First Potteries had focussed on customer aspirations and day to day experiences as much as cost savings and efficiency when they reorganised their routes in the summer. The months since wouldn’t have been eaten up with campaigns by residents angry at a service being withdrawn followed by frequent climb downs by the company, all of which is time consuming, unproductive an the sort of thing that persuades people to stay in their cars.
Travelling by public transport in this country is all too often an uncomfortable and frustrating experience; it doesn’t have to be though. The application of a little of the funding lavished on the roads along with a lot of thought and a willingness to listen to passengers could make the service into one people actually want to use.
Nobody should be forced out of their car, but if a viable and pleasant alternative were available many people might be persuaded to leave it behind. A Britain with less traffic on its roads would certainly be a calmer and healthier place; there’d probably be much fewer potholes too.