Conservatives are promising fantasy money for highways – Floreat Salopia Ollam Foraminis?

Conservatives are promising fantasy money for highways – Floreat Salopia Ollam Foraminis?

The Conservatives have promised an extra £40 million for highways if they are re-elected. At a committee meeting early in the month, council officers confirmed that this money could not be found within the planned budget but will have to come from grants, extra government funding, cuts to other budgets and the council’s diminishing reserves.

The £40 million is fantasy money, not a commitment. The Conservatives have cut £10 million from the highways budget over the last two years. They have been able to make up a bit of ground through one off government grants for potholes and to repair highways after severe weather. But the road network is so decayed in many areas, especially rural roads, the council is not managing catchup.

Perhaps it is time to change the county’s motto from Floreat Salopia to Floreat Salopia Ollam Foraminis. (Please excuse my cod Latin. Corrections welcome in the comments!)

The Conservatives have cut the highways budget by £10 million over the last the two years. They are now proposing to make that up and are pledging £40 million over four years if they are re-elected. This pledge was infamously announced by Conservative deputy leader Steve Charmley at a Place Overview Committee breaking the universal understanding that scrutiny should not be a political process. My complaint about his intervention, made with the approval of the chair of the committee, was eventually upheld.

At the most recent Place Overview Committee, Lib Dem leader Roger Evans challenged the council on where the £40 million would come from. The full question is below. The headline message is:

“There are many ways in which this funding could be provided including grants, lobbying for additional government funding, borrowing, use of reserves, efficiencies, capitalisation or reallocation of existing funds or compensatory cuts.”

Question from Councillor Roger Evans

At a recent meeting of this committee, and I note the minutes of this meeting have not yet been published, I understand that an announcement was made that the cabinet plans to spend an extra £40M on road maintenance during the next 4 years. This is of course just days after members of the cabinet proposed that council agree a budget for 2021/22 with no mention of this increase in it.

Many members have complained about the state of our highways and the continued deterioration in them. This, together with the failure to repair the increasing number of potholes have caused many members of the public to quite rightly criticise the policy that cabinet have agreed and supported concerning highways maintenance.

I welcome, as do many others, the proposal. However, after the last meeting I made enquires with the finance department, asking for confirmation of where this £40M was coming from. Was it in fact new money or money that had already been allocated and was now being listed under a different name. For example, was it in fact just the recent cuts being restored.  I was informed that they had no knowledge of this and had made no provision for any extra spend in any future forecasts.

I would therefore wish to ask the following please.

A. Can it be confirmed because of decisions made how much in each of the preceding 5 years was spent on highway maintenance and how much was removed from this budget during this same period?

Response

Please refer to attached spreadsheet. [This contains further details to the image above]

2. Can I and members of the Scrutiny Panel be informed as to where this extra money is shown in the recently adopted Financial Strategy adopted at the last council meeting.

Response

The current administration has pledged to spend an additional £40m on Highways over the next four years should they be re-elected. This investment would be additional funding. There are many ways in which this funding could be provided including grants, lobbying for additional government funding, borrowing, use of reserves, efficiencies, capitalisation or reallocation of existing funds or compensatory cuts. Any investment proposals would be developed with the Executive Director of Resources and a fully costed proposal brought back to full Council for approval at an appropriate point in the future.  

C. Who is it proposed will be carrying out this extra work; will it be our existing highways contractors, Kier and WSP, or will, as I and many others hope, be put out to tender with the aim of using others, including local firms. Firms who have up until recently been excluded from doing this type of work.

Response

As the Council is now in the pre-election period, officers are busy planning for the next administration and will of course be looking at how they can deliver any election pledges. It would however be presumptuous to have detailed plans for delivery before the elections have been concluded and therefore a delivery mechanism has not yet been identified. The highway service however always anticipates unplanned windfalls of investment, such as in-year DfT funding, and therefore has confidence that any additional investment can be implemented in a cost effective way that makes the most difference to the condition of the highway network.

2 thoughts on “Conservatives are promising fantasy money for highways – Floreat Salopia Ollam Foraminis?

  1. Hi Andy, found your blog while searching for answers on this exact issue. Shame I didn’t find it years ago.

    I’ve been trying to get an answer — straight or otherwise — on social media from tories promoting this “manifesto promise”, but haven’t had any success yet.

    You will of course be aware of all of the following, but I rarely see it ever linked together by anyone at the Shropshire Star or the tory cabinet, which means voters are left unaware of the dire financial situation during this election period.

    In 2019, independent auditors warned the Council will run out of reserves if drastic changes weren’t made:
    https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/politics/2019/09/09/council-warned-current-financial-strategy-will-leave-reserves-depleted-by-the-next-financial-year/

    Peter Nutting then denied that was the case, but stated that there would only be around £17 million left in reserves in 2020-21. This is before COVID hit, so the situation will only be worse now:
    https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/politics/2019/09/12/council-leader-says-authority-will-not-run-out-of-reserves/

    In 2020 Shropshire Council’s own Director of Finance issued the stark warning that the authority would be facing bankruptcy if the strategy didn’t change.
    https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/health/coronavirus-covid19/2020/07/01/council-officer-issues-stark-warning-on-budget/

    Shropshire Council are now on the hook for £28.5 million, plus whatever overspend, to fund the NWRR:
    https://www.shropshirestar.com/news/transport/2021/04/14/more-than-1000-objections-to-north-west-relief-road-plans/

    We’ve got the shopping centre debacle which lost millions instantly plus whatever fraction of that money which is left tied up in buildings there’s no longer any demand for.

    £12.5 million to move council offices there. The money-sink which is the Big Town Plan consultations in Shrewsbury and similar in Oswestry.

    And now they’re promising an additional £40 million, which no one is willing to admit publicly where it will be taken from.

    It’s transparent and it’s disgraceful. Those of us who are watching and seeing what is going on owe to Shropshire residents who aren’t to let them know.

  2. I think the issue is worse- a promise to spend money that does not exist on top of the continued mismanagement of the Highways portfolio and that waste of money with in it.
    We are paying for a contract to do work which is not performing, roads are not repaired, issues with closures are repeated, communication with SCC is ignored and not responded to, SR’s raise on the SCC system are just left to age with no action. We are paying for a consultant to tell SCC how to repair roads and pot holes- why?- Surely this is a core competence of the highways organisation- if SCC does not have this competence how can they put a contract out and get quality and value for money to repair roads?

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