DfT seeks cash boost for block grant as bidding fatigue bites

Transport ministers have told the Treasury that highways maintenance block funding to local authorities should be given higher priority and more cash and should not be raided to fund the major road network (MRN).

Speaking at an industry event, Steve Berry, the Department for Transport official responsible for local authority roads, said that a Government consultation to be launched by the end of the year would ask the ‘fundamental question’ of what the MRN should look like.

He said: ‘We can then determine how we go forward with funding of the MRN. I have been quite clear in my discussions so far with Treasury and others that highways maintenance block funding is to be not part of the MRN, not part of the National Roads Fund, because actually that is separate.’

He added: ‘I mentioned this to the minister [Jesse Norman] when he first came in. He’s got massive concerns about the condition, or the perceived condition, of the road network. And what he was saying was, there is a story we need to start telling, and making the case for to our Treasury colleagues.

‘What is that case? You’ve got the Strategic Road Network; you’ve got then potentially the Major Road Network; we then have local large majors funding; you’ve got Local Growth fund; you’ve then got Highways Maintenance Integrated Transport Block. Well actually, at this moment in time Highways Maintenance Integrated Transport Block is right at the lower end.

‘It shouldn’t be; it should be overarching and overseeing all of those from large local majors downwards. So basically that’s the task that I’m now working on in terms of how can we tell that story and make the case for additional funding, over and above what is now the National Roads Fund and the MRN budget.’

The Government’s version of the MRN, as set out in its Transport Investment Strategy, sees it as consisting only of key local authority roads and therefore separate from Highways England’s Strategic Road Network, but potentially also funded through ring-fenced Vehicle Excise Duty under the National Roads Fund.

Mr Berry added that ministers are also conscious of ‘bidding fatigue’ in relation to constant competition for Government cash.

Asked how £850m from the new Transforming Cities Fund will be allocated to councils without metro mayors, he said: ‘The criteria are still being worked out by the Department and all I can say is further announcements will be made by the minister in due course.’

He added: ‘I think there is quite a lot of bidding fatigue out there and ministers are starting to become aware of that bidding fatigue and they are looking at what can we do in a different way? Let’s be clear, the Government like funds; they like having bidding competitions and I think it helps in terms of understanding where the issues are et cetera.

‘But I also think that ministers may want to think about more targeted investment going forward, rather than maybe seeking bids. That’s to be worked out.’

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