A senior Department for Transport (DfT) official has suggested that the self-assessment process for the incentive element of local authority highway maintenance funding could be revamped to incentivise more councils to adopt the risk-based approach set out in the new code of practice.
Speaking at the National Highways and Transport (NHT) Network Conference, Steve Berry, the DfT official responsible for local authority roads, confirmed that the questionnaire that councils complete to determine their banding – and therefore incentive element funding – will not change for the imminent 2018/19 round but could be refocused after that.
He said: ‘There has been talk in terms of whether we are going to change it going forward into 19/20 and 20/21. We haven’t made a decision on that as yet. We are keeping an open mind.
‘The incentive element was about continuous improvement. We want to see continuous improvement through authorities. And so we’ve got to think about whether we do need to consider a new level of questions and a new theme.
‘The Code of Practice published in 2016, “Well-managed highway infrastructure”, highlighted that all highway authorities needed to adopt a risk-based approach.’
Mr Berry made reference to the UK Roads Liaison Group’s survey of local authorities on their implementation of the code. As previously reported on Highways, the survey has had a low response rate and concerns have arisen that some councils may only pay ‘lip service’ to the code and struggle to implement a risk-based approach by the deadline of October next year.
Mr Berry said: ‘What we are seeing is that there are a number of authorities that are adopting that full risk-based approach but we are also seeing that it is an issue.’
Pointing out that the incentive element is worth over half a billion pounds in total to councils, he said: ‘So there is an opportunity through the self-assessment, through the incentive element, maybe to encourage and incentivise authorities, if they are having problems to maybe think about working closely with other authorities through the alliances and say what can we do, and tying it back in with the incentive element.’
He added: ‘Transport did very well in the Budget, on the highway maintenance side. We got an extra £46m for – dare I say, don’t shoot me – fixing potholes. It shows that actually transport is at the fore of productivity and this Government want to make sure that people get to work quicker and to improve our towns and cities.’
Mr Berry also made reference to the success of the DfT-funded pothole spotter project at the Highways Awards last month. He said: ‘We were very proud to recently win an award for best use of new technology in the highway industry through the pothole spotter initiative.‘
He also commended the NHT’s work with local authorities towards the Connect and Share element of the Housing Maintenance Efficiency Programme.