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English councils slash road safety budgets

Institute of Advanced Motorists report highlights how road safety initiatives are bearing the brunt of spending cuts

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.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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don_don | 12 years ago

I'd like to see Mr. Best's comment on the UK's table-topping status amended to reflect that we might well be the best in the world for road safety for people inside vehicles, but I very much doubt we are tops for cyclist and pedestrian safety..

Anyhow, given that our local authorities and Police seem to have completely abrogated their responsibility for enforcing speed limits, poor driving and antisocial/obstructive pavement parking, nothing much surprises me any more...

mrmo | 12 years ago

the roads around me in Cheltenham are in a really bad way, pot holes, disintergrating surfaces. Just asking for an accident in my opinion. It only takes hitting one rain filled pot hole to put you under a truck.

ragtag | 12 years ago

Save a bit on safety which then gets spent on scraping people off the tarmac and hospital.. oh wait, hospitals are being privatised too.

OldRidgeback | 12 years ago

Lambeth in London cut the budget paying for crossing supervisors (lollipop men/women) outside schools. Some schools now pay for these out of their own budgets but some can't afford to. Taking into account how much money this has saved the council compared with how much the council's top executives are paid, it is hard not to be deeply cynical.

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