Dan Russell, Conservative Local Election candidate in Brent Central's Tokyngton Ward, sets out his thoughts on the importance of supporting local transport infrastructure.
Good infrastructure is essential for business development. Without good quality roads, railways and runways to move goods, and fast, reliable broadband to attract and secure orders, enterprise will struggle. If local areas are to be engines of national prosperity, councils need to provide them with the tools to create employment, growth and tomorrow’s commercial success stories.
It is good news that the Government has recognised the need for world class infrastructure. It has committed to ambitious projects, including Heathrow’s third runway, the A14 and HS2. On the national stage, it is increasingly clear that the Government has stepped up and is investing for the long-term in order to deliver the infrastructure that businesses need to thrive. This is good news for our national and local companies.
Moving forward, the Government should prioritise investment in roads. They are the most important type of infrastructure for small and micro businesses, which make up 98% of UK businesses and account for 73% of turnover. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has set this out clearly. When it comes to prioritising future infrastructure investment, the Government must see roads for what they truly are – a lifeline for local businesses – and ensure that "the road network is fit for purpose and that new roads are built in conjunction with other modes of transport. This will relieve congestion and provide better access for businesses, in both rural and urban areas. Businesses are reliant on roads to operate and to ensure their economic growth, a functioning road network is vital”
The Government has certainly heard those arguments in the past, and has led the way in road investment with:
- A £15bn investment in the Strategic Road Network (SRN).
- The publication of the Transport Investment Strategy (TIS) in July 2017, which was welcomed by the FSB, and offers a realistic and pragmatic response to today’s transport infrastructure challenges that will drive progress and help fulfil aims of the Industrial Strategy.
- £220m allocated for national road development in the 2016 Autumn Statement, to fund smaller projects that can quickly and directly tackle congestion and improve local productivity.
- A funding package of £345.3m (October 2017) to improve local roads and public transport from the National Productivity Investment Fund.
However, before the Government allocates additional funding for infrastructure, Ministers must do more to ensure that local authorities make the most of the development opportunities presented to them. The importance of local authority road infrastructure to businesses is exemplified by the fact that, while the SRN carries a third of all road traffic, it only accounts for 2% of the road network by length, with local authority roads comprising the remaining 98%. It is clear, therefore, that local authorities have an essential role to play in ensuring that the road network is fit for purpose. Yet some are failing to step up to the plate.
Unfortunately, that is the case with Brent Council, who, once again, have decided against providing adequate resources to maintain the local road network. Instead, the administration recently decided to reduce expenditure on Regeneration and Environment by £700,000. This limits the amount of funding available for road maintenance, even though the Council admits that the number of faults being identified on roads is rising, and the Government provides sufficient grant funding to local authorities to support the upkeep of the local transport network. Government grants also allow for the enhancement of the local transport network. Nevertheless, the Council has continued to underspend within the capital budget by around £100m, while reducing capital expenditure on roads from £11.4m (2017/18) to £5.6m (2020/21). This limits the amount available for new road infrastructure at a time when the FSB is calling for investment to be targeted there. It is particularly disappointing when 96% of Brent’s businesses are SMEs, and, as we have seen, highly dependent on the road network.
Brent Council has the resources to support the local road network and, yet, it fails to do so. This is clearly not in the interest of local businesses. I would like to see Ministers consult with any local authority that underperforms in this regard, and, if necessary, put measures in place to ensure that the all central government investment reaches its intended destination. A Conservative-run Brent Council would invest £1m more in roads and pavements across the borough, to ensure that they meet the highest safety standards and improve access for business. A Labour-run Brent Council, on the other hand, will continue to under invest in the local road network, and will hold the Borough back with unnecessary Council Tax increases – 4.99% this year and 13% since May 2014.
That’s why I believe that it is time for a change to ensure that our local authority delivers for our local businesses. By voting Conservative in the Local Elections on 3rd May 2018, you can help to make this change a reality.