So the Chancellor has promised the largest road investment programme in half a century.
But talk is cheap. The big question is how such a commitment can be delivered, especially if there could be a change of government within a couple of years?
If we were talking about the railways then there would be no reason to worry. After all, every five years the rail network receives a fixed settlement for the next review period. A Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) set against a list (High Level Output Specification or HLOS) of what should be achieved with the cash.
So come tomorrow will Danny Alexander – in his infrastructure announcement – finally announce a similar system for the road network, particular the strategic roads managed by the Highways Agency? After all that is what was recommended by the Cook Review.
More generally, we welcome today’s announcement and the long-term commitment to funding, but capital expenditure on our strategic roads is not yet back to the levels seen before the cuts started in 2011 and the cut in resource spending risks exacerbating the pothole plague.
Also, you can’t kick-start an economy with back-loaded measures. Road schemes tend to deliver excellent value for money, but the benefits for the nation will only come if they receive the green light sooner rather than later. Much will depend how any extra money will be allocated over the coming years.
Eighteen months ago we identified 96 major road schemes worth £11 billion which the DfT did not have the cash to progress. Our latest audit shows 33 have since been given the go-ahead. However, most are small projects and an £8 billion funding gap remains. We have plotted the original 96 schemes on a map with details of the 33 that have progressed.
If the Chancellor is looking for money he need only look at motoring taxation. Unlike bus and rail passenger who are heavily subsidised, drivers contribute a net amount to the Chancellor each year – £33 billion in fuel duty and VED alone.