With spending falling and only 63% of Scotland's council-maintained roads in an acceptable condition, local and national roads authorities urgently need to be more innovative and efficient, according to Audit Scotland.
In a report for the Accounts Commission, the Scottish public spending watchdog, Audit Scotland says the status quo is ‘no longer an option if there is to be any improvement in road condition‘.
A key recommendation of the report is for local and national roads authorities to urgently develop 'more innovative, develop robust ways to compare relative efficiency, and engage better with road users’.
A road through Glencoe in Scotland
Sharing roads maintenance services on a regional basis can offer significant benefits, the report suggests, but there is ‘still no clear plan or timetable to deliver it in practice’.
Accounts Commission chair Douglas Sinclair, said: ‘Councils face increasing pressures and challenges but progress in developing a shared services approach for roads has been disappointingly slow. They can and should collaborate much more to secure better value for money.’
The report says a longer-term view that takes into account both the need for new roads and the maintenance of the existing road network is needed.
The proportion of roads maintained by Scottish councils that are classed as being in acceptable condition remained constant at around 63% between 2011/12 and 2014/15, during which time councils' spending on maintenance fell by 14%.
However, the report says there is a wide variation among councils and concern that current surveys do not always pick up damage to lower road layers.
On motorways and key trunk routes maintained by Transport Scotland, spending fell by 4% between 2011/12 and 2014/15 while the proportion in acceptable condition fell from 90% to 87%.
The report says Transport Scotland attributes this fall to more resurfacing work, instead of more expensive reconstruction which would also improve the condition of the lower road layers. Transport Scotland spent £24m less on structural maintenance in 2014/15 than it considered necessary to maintain road condition at current levels.
Cllr Stephen Hagan, transport spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said the report’s conclusions ‘gloss over a complex picture’.
He 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.’