Road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has revealed that local authorities throughout England cut their road safety budgets by an average of 15 per cent last year in the face of cuts in government spending as austerity measures start to bite. Average cuts across all council services were 6 per cent, which according to IAM “has raised concerns that some authorities are cutting road safety disproportionately.”
The findings are contained in a report published by the IAM today called The end of the road: Local investment in road safety in England. You can download a copy at the end of this article.
Some 81 councils, more than half of the 152 that IAM had contacted, revealed that they had cut their budgets for traffic management and road safety by 10 per cent or more, encompassing initiatives such as courses to rehabilitate those convicted of motoring offences, school crossing patrols, safe routes to schools and training for young drivers.
Highways expenditure in general has borne the brunt of cuts in council expenditure generally, down by 20.7 per cent in 2011/12 compared to the previous year, against a fall for all services of 5.81 per cent.
As the IAM points out, money for road safety was ring-fenced under the previous government but from 2011/12 onwards is included within the overall grant given to councils for the provision of services, and it appears that in some cases, that is leading local authorities to divert cash elsewhere.
At a local level, big differences were seen in the approach taken by councils that border one another. In London, for example, Camden slashed its spending on road safety funding by more than 70 per cent, against a 10.6 per cent increase in road casualties there since 2006, and more than 100 people being killed or seriously injured on the borough’s roads in 2010.
Next door in Islington, which last year became the first London borough to introduce a blanket 20mph speed limit across all its roads other than major through routes, funding for road safety and traffic management rose by £134,000, despite the council claiming that it has been hit harder by government cuts than any other in London, having to save £100 million between April 2011 and March 2015.
The boundary between the two boroughs includes Kings Cross, where cyclist Deep Lee was killed last year, although that incident took place on a stretch of road managed by TfL as part of the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN), which manages the capital’s major roads; according to the IAM,
Spending on road maintenance has not been cut to the same extent as that on road safety. While 30 councils, a little more than one in three of those that replied, said that they had cut their road maintenance budgets by 10 per cent or more, overall there was a very slight increase of 0.37 per cent.
Again, huge differences were observed – in Blackpool, spending on road mainteance was up by 34 per cent, but in Northumberland it was slashed by a whopping 63 per cent.
IAM chief executive Simon Best commented: “In difficult times, councils can be more innovative and flexible in their approach by working with the voluntary and private sectors to provide the services they can no longer afford.
“Austerity is forcing councils to make difficult choices, but the fact that these cuts only represent the first year of savings under the coalition’s spending review is deeply worrying. Cutting road safety so hard makes no sense. The average wage of a lollipop lady is £3,000 a year while the cost of each road fatality is £1.6 million. So the returns on investment are huge,” he continued.
“Cuts of this scale risk lives as well as the UK’s table-topping status as the best in the world for road safety. The government needs to bring back casualty reduction targets so that councils make road safety a priority.”
“I’m also concerned that patchy spending on maintenance will not keep pace with our crumbling roads,” Mr Best added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.