Questions raised over pothole underspend in Devon's budget

Potholes continue to be an important issue for North Devon residents and Devon County Council

Potholes continue to be an important issue for North Devon residents and Devon County Council - Credit: Archant

Devon County Council is forecasting a £3.7m underspend against its target budget for 2020/21 – but concerns have been raised over lack of spending on potholes and drainage. 

The council’s cabinet on Wednesday morning (10/03/2021) heard that the financial position had improved from the month eight position of a £1.9m overspend to a £3.7m underspend at the end of month 10. 

But councillors heard that the level of uncertainty and pressures being faced by the public sector this year was unprecedented and continues to evolve, and while the projected underspend is welcome, there remain significant far-reaching risks associated with the impact of the pandemic. 

And questions were raised by opposition members that the highways maintenance budget were forecasting an underspend of £500,000, and that drainage could be underspent by up to £2.6m. 

Councillor Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “Residents are saying why during the lockdowns hasn’t more been done to fix the problems on the roads, so will we carry forward that budget to get a real march on fixing the problems that we know exist. 

“They’ve taken eight months and the best weather to spend half the available revenue funding, and have left the other half to spend in four months and the worst weather when this type of work is the most challenging.” 

Cllr Alistair Dewhirst added: “If residents knew we were underspending, they would have been horrified. It would have been good if works done on the highways in the last year when traffic was down, so don’t understand why we are down on that.” 

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But Meg Booth, chief officer for highways, infrastructure, development and waste, said that while there has a £500,000 underspend on drainage works, they had been overspending on pothole maintenance against the budget, and that the change in forecast is primarily attributable to confirmation that patches greater than 1m squared, and that the underspend in the capital budget was around the more complex infrastructure projects. 

The cabinet agreed to note the budget monitoring forecast position and that the confirmed additional funding Devon County Council is expecting to receive from the Government directly this financial year currently stands at £91m. 

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