A senior Department for Transport (DFT) official has played down the possibility that city regions will divert government cash intended for road repairs to pay for their plans to improve bus services.
It follows last week’s announcement of funding for local bus service improvement plans (BSIP), which saw South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority given no new cash and other city regions receiving less than they have said they need.
South Yorkshire mayor Dan Jarvis said his region had been ‘shafted’ while Tracey Brabin, mayor of neighbouring West Yorkshire, said the £70m awarded to her combined authority for its BSIP showed that ‘the Government’s ambition does not yet match ours’.
She said: ‘The level of funding provided for buses means we will have to make some tough decisions and it will take us longer to deliver the benefits of a fully-inclusive bus service that our plan offers.’
Alongside the bus funding announcement, the DfT also confirmed City Region Sustainable Funding Settlement (CRSTS) allocations for seven mayoral combined authorities, which include highway maintenance capital funding under the pothole fund and the Highways Maintenance Block needs and incentive elements.
Speaking at the Road Surface Treatment Association’s conference last week, Matt Eglinton (pictured) , the DfT’s head of local highways maintenance and resilience, described highway maintenance and investment in the local road network as ‘the absolute bedrock for ensuring that local transport plans can be carried out effectively'.
Mr Eglinton also pointed out CRSTS funding was not ringfenced. In response to a question from Transport Network about whether city regions might divert highway maintenance cash to make up for securing less bus funding, he replied: ‘I don’t see that as much of an issue because the evidence suggests that local authorities do spend the money that has been allocated.’
Mr Eglinton said: ‘When we secured funding for three years, we rolled over the existing allocations so, even though nominally the funding was part of a larger settlement, the local authorities do already have a level of spend in terms what’s been allocated to the local network.
‘We’ve seen consistently that it terms of capital maintenance funding, the local authorities always spend their allocated amounts and in many instances there are local authorities who spend beyond that.’
The rollover of 2021-22 highway funding allocations for a further three years represents a freeze against the backdrop of what the RSTA’s chairman, Keith Brett of Kiely Bros, described as hyperinflation in the sector, particularly in relation to the oil-based products that are vital for road maintenance.
He told conference delegates: ‘We all know how difficult [highway maintenance] budgets are going to be this year.’
He said: ‘The effect of this and the removal of the red diesel entitlement for specialist highways plant is hitting our industry is hitting our industry hard, right at the start of our main season after two very difficult years.’