MPs question local authority transport spending and parking revenue, citing lack of transparency and ring fencing
Central government must do more to keep track of the money it provides to local authorities for transport projects, the public accounts committee has warned, The Local Government Network reports.
MPs have raised concerns about non-ringfenced budgets that the Department for Transport has no way of controlling at local level. In 2011-12 councils were given £2.2bn by Whitehall, £1.2bn of which was set aside for highway maintenance or transport projects but was not ringfenced, tracked or followed up by ministers. Councils may not be spending the money on transport and there is no recording system or comparison between authorities to identify underperformance and ensure value for money for the taxpayer.
The committee also warned that ministers have no clear scrutiny role when it comes to assessing the impact of cuts on local transport systems. MPs added that the department's reliance on informal co-operation between local authorities to complete large-scale infrastructure and transport projects is unwise, especially during major financial instability.
Chair of the committee Margaret Hodge said: "The risk is that local transport bodies, under severe financial pressure, will not take sufficiently strategic and joined-up decisions, threatening national or regional transport funding objectives."
She added: "We are not convinced that government has thought through the risks of devolving more control over the funding of major transport projects to a local level. For example, the department is confident that local bodies will naturally co-operate to fund and implement projects. We believe this confidence may well be misplaced."
Hodge also raised questions about how money raised from parking charges is reinvested, and recommended the government should design a mechanism to ensure councils use funds for transport and not general spending.
During an evidence session before the committee, David Sparks, chairman of the Local Government Association's transport board, appeared to confirm that councils do increase parking charges in order to ease pressure on other budgets and to lessen the impact of the failure to increase council tax.
He told MPs: "You will look at increasing car parking charges to alleviate the overall pressures on the budget. That means ipso facto that car parking charges are going up to keep council tax down."
Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for business at Westminster city council, said: "Westminster has already unveiled its own fair parking policy to show exactly where money is spent and there are already strict guidelines on where local authorities can spend.
"We welcome transparency and will continue to invest our parking surplus in important community services like school transport, concessionary fares, travel permits and also in projects which benefit motorists such as road improvements and congestion busting schemes like the Piccadilly two-way project in the heart of the West End."
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