Department for Transport civil servants warned MPs this week that standards would be affected by road maintenance spending cuts.
The Public Accounts Committee heard that reducing costs in the DfT would mean slower response times to highways problems.
A report by spending watchdogs at the National Audit Office said that a reduction in routine maintenance spending would equate to £310m to 2014/2015 but there would be a corresponding increase of £150m in capital spending to move to an annual cycle of maintenance with managed degradation and much slower response times.
DfT outgoing permanent secretary Lin Homer said: “We believe it is going to be possible to make more of the maintenance routine and therefore reduce the overall cost.
“So we think this approach will maintain the road network in a safe and usable condition. We think you might see deterioration occasionally that’s then picked up in the routine, so instead of going out and filling a pothole when it emerges it might then get picked up on the routine.”
Committee member James Wharton said that there “seems to be an acceptance that maintenance of roads will be generally to a lower standard and slower”.
Homer added that while there may be moments when it looks like conditions are worsening the DfT did not believe “the network would degrade” under the plans but accepted that there would need to be careful monitoring as a result of the changes.
The report points out the Highways Agency will see the greatest reduction in spending in this review period from the Department for Transport.
Budgets are falling, in cash terms, from £3.2bn per annum in 2010/11 to £2.1bn in 2014/15, a 41% real terms reduction.