'Urgent action' needed on Scottish roads

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Media captionMore than a third of council-maintained roads are in need of repair, the report found

Urgent action is needed to improve the condition of Scotland's road network, the country's spending watchdog has warned.

Audit Scotland said more than a third of council-maintained roads were in need of repairs.

And it said there had been a deterioration in the overall condition of motorways and other trunk roads since 2011.

Councils' spending on road maintenance fell by 14% over the same period.

Audit Scotland said 57% of road users reported that the condition of the carriageways was a major concern.

And it estimated that poor or defective road conditions may have contributed to six fatal, 64 serious and 234 more minor road traffic accidents over the five-year period.

It also said that a well-maintained road network was vital for the country's economic wellbeing.

Scotland's road repairs


Accidents on defective roads

  • 63% of roads in 'acceptable' state

  • 14% fall in council spending

  • 57% of drivers say carriageway conditions are a 'major concern'


Councils are responsible for the vast majority of Scotland's 37,000 miles of roads, with Transport Scotland responsible for about 2,200 miles of motorways and key trunk routes.

Audit Scotland said the proportion of council-maintained roads classed as being in acceptable condition had remained constant at about 63% over the four years 2011/12 to 2014/15.

The remaining 37% of roads were split between those which either showed some deterioration that would need planned maintenance to be carried out in the future, or were in such a poor condition that repairs would be needed within the next year.

The report found there was "significant variation" in the condition of council-maintained roads across the country, with only 44% classed as acceptable in Argyll and Bute but 79% in Orkney.

While 13 authorities increased their spending, overall council expenditure on roads maintenance continues to decrease, from £302m in 2011/12 to £259m in 2014/15.

That is £33m less than the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation Scotland considers was necessary to maintain the current condition of local roads.

The report also found that the condition of trunk roads declined from 90% in acceptable condition in 2011/12 to 87% in 2014/15.

Dual and single-track A-class roads were in better condition than motorways, which declined from 79% in acceptable condition in 2011/12 to 74% in acceptable condition in 2014/15.

The report said Transport Scotland attributed much of the decline in motorway condition to doing more resurfacing work instead of reconstruction, which would also improve the condition of lower road layers.

Spending by the government agency on maintenance fell by 4% from £168m to £162m between 2011/12 and 2014/15 - £24m less than is thought necessary to keep trunk road conditions at their current levels.

Auditor General Caroline Gardner said: "A well-maintained roads network is vital for Scotland's economic prosperity. We cannot afford to neglect it.

"What is needed is a longer term view which takes into account both the need for new roads and the proper maintenance of what we have at present."

Council body Cosla said the findings should be seen as a success in the context of reduced budgets and rising demand for services.

'Scarce resources'

Councillor Stephen Hagan said: "The reality of the situation is that Scotland's councils have done a good job with less resource in keeping the roads to a decent standard.

"It is clear that some councils, despite the financial challenges, have chosen to invest in road quality while others, for perfectly valid reasons, have chosen to spend scarce resources on other vital services."

Opposition parties urged the Scottish government to act, highlighting that roads maintenance spending is higher in England, and renewing criticism of the most recent local government settlement.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme the Scottish government had invested £6.5bn in the trunk road network since the SNP came to power in 2007.

However, he conceded that more needed to be done. He said: "I knock enough doors in my own constituency to hear people complain about potholes and the fact that when they're driving or cycling, they feel that the roads are not in an acceptable condition.

"We do have to work closer with local authorities, we do have the road collaboration programme, but I think the criticism from Audit Scotland about how can local government and national government stake holders work closer together, I think that's a fair one for us to examine and do more on."