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4 August 2016, 08:10
Urgent action is needed to improve the condition of Scotland's roads, according to a new report.
Audit Scotland revealed 63% of local council-maintained roads are in acceptable state, a proportion unchanged since 2011/12.
Despite 13 local authorities increasing spending on road maintenance, overall expenditure has decreased by 14%, from #302 million in 2011/12 to £259 million in 2014/15.
Councils spent £33 million less on maintenance in 2014/15 than the amount considered necessary to maintain the current condition of local roads, the report said.
The state of trunk roads, the responsibility of Transport Scotland, declined over the same period from 90% in an acceptable condition to 87%.
Transport Scotland spending on trunk roads maintenance fell 4% from £168 million to £162 million.
The report said the body spent £24 million (38%) less on structural maintenance in 2014/15 than was necessary to maintain the current condition of trunk roads.
Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: "A well-maintained roads network is vital for Scotland's economic prosperity. We cannot afford to neglect it.
"What is needed is a longer term view which takes into account both the need for new roads and the proper maintenance of what we have at present.''
Council body Cosla said the findings should be seen as a success in the context of austerity and rising demand for services.
Councillor Stephen Hagan said: "The reality of the situation is that Scotland's councils have done a good job with less resource in keeping the roads to a decent standard.
"It is clear that some councils, despite the financial challenges, have chosen to invest in road quality while others, for perfectly valid reasons, have chosen to spend scarce resource on other vital services.''
More than half (57%) of road users reported that the condition of the carriageways is a major concern.
Audit Scotland estimated that poor or defective road conditions may have contributed to six fatal, 64 serious and 234 slight road traffic accidents over the five-year period.
Opposition parties urged SNP ministers to act, highlighting that roads maintenance spending is higher in England, and renewing criticism of the most recent local government settlement.
Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said the report is "damning'', adding: "Roads in Scotland are vital to the economy, and by not maintaining them properly the Scottish Government is inadvertently impacting business.
"There are also safety implications, not to mention the damage caused to cars belonging to those who are already putting up with an anti-motorist agenda north of the border.''
Labour MSP Neil Bibby said: "Rather than give local councils the resources they need to maintain the condition of our roads, the SNP have instead chosen to cut over £1 billion from local authorities since 2011.''
Mike Rumbles MSP, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "It is hard to escape the conclusion that the funding squeeze that has been imposed on local authorities will make it virtually impossible for councils to keep more roads in a fit state.''
Green MSP John Finnie said: "With the tightening of local authority budgets, it's understandable that many councils have struggled to keep up with road maintenance.
"That's why Scottish Greens are fully supportive of expenditure being used to maintain our existing infrastructure rather than spending obscene sums on building new roads.''
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Few people living in Scotland could fail to have noticed the significant investment currently being made in Scotland's trunk road network - with major improvements set to reduce journey times and support economic growth.
"Since 2007, £6.5 billion has been invested to help ensure it operates efficiently and in the last year, 378 lane-km of trunk road carriageways have been improved or strengthened.
"Audit Scotland recognises that the vast majority of the network, 87%, is in an acceptable condition. This has been reflected in our most recent customer survey, where the number of people satisfied with the condition of trunk roads has increased by 5% last year.
"The report also highlights that through the competitive procurement process we have generated efficiency savings of around £42 million in the last three years from our trunk road operating contracts.
"While the responsibility for the maintenance of local roads lies with local authorities, we are committed to working with them to help to improve the condition of all roads through the Road Collaboration Programme which is examining options for shared services.
"Despite ongoing cuts to our budget by the UK Government, the Scottish Government has delivered a fair funding settlement with over £10.3 billion to local authorities in 2016/17. It is the responsibility of each local authority to allocate resources on the basis of local needs and priorities.''