How to get maximum highways funding

  • English local highway authorities are invited to complete a self-assessment questionnaire to receive part of a £578 million incentive fund
  • Local authorities will not be competing for this funding, but will need to evidence efficiency measures in order to receive their full share
  • We look at how the fund works, what councils need to do in order to secure funding and when to expect the revised questionnaire

The Department for Transport (DfT) is challenging local authorities to manage their highways assets more effectively in order to save taxpayers’ money.

The DfT says if all 152 local highways authorities in England implement the cost savings outlined in the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s (CIPFA’s) Code for Transport Infrastructure Assets, the benefit to the national economy would be worth £100 million.

£6bn local highways maintenance funding

In December 2014, the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, announced that £6 billion would be made available between 2015/16 and 2020/21 for local highways maintenance funding.

Of this, £578 million has been set aside for an incentive fund scheme, to “reward councils who demonstrate they are delivering value for money in carrying out cost effective improvements.”

In 2015/16 all local highway authorities received their full share of the funding. However, from 2016, highways authorities will receive a percentage of the incentive fund based upon a self-assessment score [see boxout opposite].

When to expect the questionnaire

In summer 2015, local authorities were invited to submit a “dry run” of the questionnaire, allowing time for the DfT to revise the question set for final publication in November 2015. However, the revised questions have not yet been published.

Based on unofficial announcements by the DfT, we expect that the new questionnaire will be published in December, for completion by year end. We want to ensure that during such a busy time, local authorities are fully prepared for its arrival, in order to secure funding for future years.

It is important to note that local authorities will not be competing with each other for funding; the DfT says the fund is large enough for every authority to receive the maximum possible share.

How the incentive fund works

The fund will be distributed based on the results of a self-assessment questionnaire that councils will be invited to complete and return, likely before the end of 2015.

The questionnaire has five sections, relating to: asset management policy and strategy; communications; performance management and maintenance; asset data management; and lifecycle planning.

Organisations can rate themselves from level 1 (the lowest ranking) to level 3 in each of the 22 questions, provided this can be supported with evidence. Based on their self-assessment, local authorities will be given a banding that will determine their future funding (see boxout opposite).

Three sections in the questionnaire carry extra weight: asset management policy and strategy, communications, and lifecycle planning. Any local authority with only a level 1 score in any of those three sections will automatically be placed in the lowest funding band.

The self-assessment questionnaire should be submitted annually in order to improve or retain the funding band of the authority. Ideally, by 2021 all authorities should have progressed to Band 3.

Promoting best practice

Clive Speed, Regional Senior Claims Service Manager, Zurich Municipal, says: “The idea of this initiative is to promote best practice and reward councils who demonstrate that they are carrying out cost effective improvements. Those who come out of the self-assessment with the highest rating will receive the full additional funding available.”

Providing evidence to support self-assessment

Local authorities must be able to provide evidence to demonstrate a higher rating. For example, in order to score highly on lifecycle planning, they should evidence that lifecycle plans are in place for all major assets. Performance targets should also have been set and met, or reviewed and reset if they have not yet been achieved.

The DfT says that while it will “not necessarily want to see the supporting evidence from every local highway authority,” it does reserve the right to undertake sample audits.

It is the responsibility of the authority’s Section 151 Officer to sign off the self-assessment submission and banding.

The self-assessment questions are based on the 2013 Highway Infrastructure Asset Management guidance document, produced by the UK Roads Liaison Group (UKRLG) and the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP).

What do local authorities need to do next?

The next step for local authorities is to prepare to meet an end of year deadline for returning the questionnaire, and ensure they are able to provide evidence to justify their self-assessment ratings.

Authorities unable to meet the deadline will be able to submit the self-assessment questionnaire the following year. Equally, authorities are encouraged to re-submit annually to demonstrate continuous improvement in order to progress or retain their banding.

This article is part of a News and Views series on highways. You can find out more about the publication of a new Code of Practice for Highways Maintenance next summer here.

Our next article in the series will take a closer look at highways asset management policies and how the new Code of Practice might affect them.