ROADS: Only one in six pothole claims compensated by cash-strapped councils

Sheep Hill (top of page picture) and Dumbuck Quarry where water is washed down making driving on the A82 a nightmare.

By Bill Heaney

Potholes were everywhere on West Dunbartonshire’s roads at the weekend with the stretch between Dumbarton and Glasgow being one of the worst hit.

Things were so bad that anger and black humour was widespread amongst local motorists who said some of the potholes were so long and so deep that the local council would do well if it started selling the fishing rights for them.

The A82 from Dumbuck Quarry past Sheep Hill towards the Erskine Bridge was the worst for surface water washing off the Old Kilpatrick Hills, concealing significant craters which trapped some motorists in their cars.

However, only one in six claims for damage caused by potholes were compensated in Scotland this year, the Scottish Conservatives can reveal.

Figures obtained by the party, via Freedom of Information requests to Scotland’s councils, show that just 15.76% of pothole claims were paid out in 2021-22. This low rate is broadly similar to those recorded in 2019-20 (16.3%) and 2020-21 (14.3%).

Tory transport spokesman Graham Simpson and SNP Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

The statistics come on the back of years of SNP funding cuts to local authority budgets, a trend continued in John Swinney’s most recent budget.

The Scottish Conservatives are committed to a fair funding deal for Scotland’s councils and in May’s local authority elections called for the introduction of Pothole Action Funds, giving communities the right to demand repairs to local roads.

Shadow transport minister Graham Simpson says drivers are picking up the tab for the SNP “starving” councils of money needed for essential repairs. 

Shadow transport minister Graham Simpson MSP said: “The dire condition of our roads is an extremely serious issue. Far too many local routes across Scotland are scarred with potholes which damage vehicles and can lead to crashes.

“But by imposing years of systematic and continued budget cuts, Nicola Sturgeon’s government are starving councils of the cash needed either to carry out essentials repairs or to compensate drivers affected by their failure to do so.

“Scotland’s pock-marked roads require urgent attention, and the SNP ought to commit to establishing the Pothole Action Funds that the Scottish Conservatives have called for.

“Sadly, though, as John Swinney’s recent budget reaffirmed, local government services are not a priority for ministers, who continue to impose unsustainable funding cuts on councils.” 

Only 1 in 6 pothole claims in Scotland have been compensated. Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through FOI have indicated that only 1 in 6 pothole claims have been compensated in the fiscal years 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22. Specifically, in 2019-20, the percentage of claims paid was 16.30%, in 2020-21 that percentage was 14.3%, while in 2021-22 the figure was 15.76%. FOI requests were sent to 32 local authorities with 29 of them providing the required information. (FOIs available on request).

Council leaders agreed that the latest budget represents a real-terms cut in services. Local authority leaders unanimously backed a motion arguing that John Swinney’s budget will be detrimental to services. SNP councillor and COSLA’s resources spokeswoman, Katie Hagmann said: ‘Council services will now be at absolute breaking point and some may have to stop altogether. This is a result of cuts to our councils’ core budgets and direction on spend towards other Scottish government priorities over the last few years. Yesterday’s budget announcement compounds this and there is a real risk that many of our essential services will not only be cut, but may have to stop altogether.’ (BBC, 16 December 2022, link).

Independent groups have also criticised John Swinney’s budget. The Fraser of Allander Institute said the funding for local government was equal to a 4.9% real-terms decrease based on spending last year, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies accused the SNP Government of overstating the spending increases by comparing spending next year to last year’s budget and not taking into account in-year rises. (BBC, 16 December 2022, link).

The Scottish Conservatives have called for local Pothole Action Funds. The condition of our roads is a serious issue. Across Scotland far too many local roads are plagued with potholes which damage vehicles. In our 20222 local government election manifesto, Scottish Conservative pledged that councils will set aside local Pothole Action Funds, to give communities the right to request repairs to local roads. (Scottish Conservatives, April 2022, link).

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