English local highways authorities have made major improvements in the Department for Transport’s (DfT) self- assessment process this year, with 39 securing the top Band 3 status, regardless of any devolution deal, compared to just two in the last round.
These leading authorities have guaranteed themselves a full payout from the Incentive Fund, which is worth a total £75m in 2017/18.
The number at the lowest level, Band 1, has also decreased from 18 to just four. These authorities will only win 60% of their Incentive Fund allocation this year, while the 72 authorities left in Band 2 will receive 90% of their allocation automatically.
Steve Berry, head of highways maintenance at the DfT, revealed the overall results at Traffex on Tuesday, with the full details due to be released after Purdah. Council chief executives have been sent a letter detailing their levels and allocations.
Mr Berry said: ‘The Incentive Fund helps encourage asset management, collaboration, good procurement and resilience. The results show continued improvement and ministers have been really impressed by how much effort has gone into the process.
‘These results are a credit to local highways authorities. They have embraced the agenda and it has helped make the case to members for highways maintenance and asset management.’
Authorities in Band 1 will lose significant funds this year. When questioned about their performance, Mr Berry told Transport Network: ‘There are a range of issues. They are probably Band 1 in asset management, meaning they have an asset management strategy but it may not have been adopted by the local members. That could be because of the timetable of local elections this year.’
Good scores on the three sections in the self-assessment questionnaire that relate to asset management are essential. An authority that scores Band 1 in any or all of those questions will automatically be placed in Band 1 overall, regardless of their other scores.
‘We will follow up with those authorities still in Band 1 and identify any barriers, we will also work with the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) advocates to support them,’ Mr Berry said.
‘If I have to go to [their] local members to highlight the importance of the self-assessment process to help, then I will do that.’
According to the recent ALARM report, the key state of the nation survey for local roads, authorities are generally very supportive of self-assessment. One local authority official said: ‘The DfT self-assessment was a valuable process to go through and is keeping everyone focussed.’
Regionally, the South West had the best result for Band 3 authorities, with eight securing 100% of their payout; however it also had two authorities in Band 1. The North West had seven authorities in Band 3 but made up the remaining two in Band 1. Yorkshire and Humber had seven authorities in Band 3; the West Midlands and Eastern regions had 5 each; the South East had three and the North East and East Midlands had two each.
Last year only Durham County Council and Lincolnshire County Council were in the top Band as of right.
The Incentive Fund is worth £578m between 2015/16 and 2020/21 to English highways authorities outside London.
The cash is awarded based on the self-assessment questionnaire score and is relative to the amount received through the needs-based funding formula. In the last round unallocated cash from the lower band councils was distributed among all authorities based on the needs formula. Highways authorities that have benefited from various devolution deals were automatically awarded Band 3 status and maximum funding over the parliament.
However Cathy Miller, deputy director, cities policy and delivery at the DfT, said the Government would take a ‘long hard look’ at these authorities come the next spending review, hinting there could be penalties if they had not made progress in highways maintenance.
‘This is not a free ride. We are not stupid,’ she said.
Officials at the DfT have said the department would be undertaking random checks to help validate the results although it is unclear if any have been carried out yet.