HC Deb 21 February 1979 vol 963 cc401-2
6. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Transport whether, in view of the severe weather, he is satisfied that sufficient funds are available for road maintenance.

Mr. Horam

We have increased the funds for maintenance in the latest annual settlement and I believe that the total is broadly right in normal circumstances. However, in view of the severe weather conditions over the past few weeks the Government have decided to make additional financial assistance available to local authorities, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment has indicated.

Mr. Morrison

Is it not a fact that, according to the White Paper on public expenditure, funds for the maintenance of motorways, trunk roads and local roads have been cut and are proposed to be cut still further? Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that the funds that are available are used? That is particularly important in present circumstances. I understand that in recent years available funds have not been used for maintenance to the extent that was planned.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that there have been cuts in maintenance funds in the past, but, as I indicated in my main answer, there has been an increase for next year compared with this year, and we do not anticipate any further cuts. We hope that the level will be roughly stable. There has been some underspending in the past, though that is the responsibility of the local authorities, which carry out the maintenance work throughout the country. I understand from the latest estimates that there is much less underspending in the current financial year.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

How will my hon. Friend ensure that the additional money which he is allocating to local authorities for road maintenance is spent for that purpose? Does he intend to introduce some sort of monitoring system to ensure that it is spent in the right direction?

Mr. Horam

We have done precisely that. Three years ago we set up machinery to look at the spending on maintenance and the needs for repair work throughout the country. It is a sampling system covering, I think, 61 different parts of the country, and generally it ensures that we are kept in close touch both with what is necessary and with the level of spending.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Does that mean the Minister is confirming that the criteria for giving additional money towards road maintenance are over and above the expenditure of a penny rate on the part of the local authority concerned? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many local authorities, my own included, have announced rate increases over and above 30 per cent., about which ratepayers are already in revolt? Due to the weather conditions—and I accept that in my constituency the Secretary of State was very generous this year—is the Minister prepared to give additional money without that restriction?

Mr. Horam

I think that we must stick to the formula which has been applied in the past. Last year, for example, local authorities up and down the country, though mainly in the West Country and East Anglia, received additional funds from the Government under the formula which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment reiterated the other day, namely, 75 per cent. over and above a penny rate.