It’s a real pleasure to be here today (17 May 2016).
The theme of today’s conference is very fitting: “Challenges in highways asset management.”
Managing our nation’s highways is challenging.
Especially in the times in which we live.
Times in which levels of road traffic continue to rise.
But times in which finances continue to be constrained.
I remember those challenges from my time as a councillor in Harrogate, when I was the cabinet member for finance and resources.
Importance of our local road network
The local highway network is one of our most valuable national assets and an essential component of our economy.
When it performs as it should, it gets us to work, to study, to visit friends and family, and it supports the movement of trade across the country.
It is therefore crucial that the local highway network is well-maintained, and well-managed.
That is why between 2015 and 2021 we are providing over £6 billion for local highways maintenance.
That includes a £250 million fund specifically for repairing potholes; enough to repair over 4 million of them by 2021.
We have set out our spending plans 5 years ahead in order to provide certainty, and so that councils can plan to use the cash in the best possible way, and at the right time.
That is, after all, what good asset management is all about.
But while we’ve made improvements to give councils more certainty, there’s scope for councils to make improvements too; to find efficiencies, and to invest the money at the right time in these assets’ lifecycles.
I am sure that most people in the room today could tell me of times they’ve seen money being spent in ways that are far from ideal.
And I know that of the 150-plus highway authorities in this country, many are doing very similar things in different ways, rather than pooling knowledge and expertise for common gain.
The real, challenge, of course, is how to do this in an era of devolution.
It would be easy for the government to tell local authorities what to do.
But that wouldn’t stimulate innovation and the sharing of good ideas.
So we want to leave the field open for highway authorities to take the initiative, to share ideas, and to learn from one another.
This conference is a great chance to do just that – to talk about what good asset management looks like, and how we can continue to improve.
Those who do take opportunities to improve will see real financial benefits, greater accountability, and better roads for everyone who depends on them.
That is why we have decided to allocate the funding we give to highways authorities partly on the basis of performance.
It’s an incentive for those who have done well to do even better, and for those who haven’t done so well to catch up.
That incentive funding is worth £578 million between now and 2021.
The results of the incentive funding for 2016/17 were announced last month.
For those authorities who have not ranked as highly as they’d have liked, the department stand ready to support them for next time around.
Our highways maintenance efficiency programme provides guidance and advice to local highway authorities too.
And we have also published advice on determining economic costs and benefits of highway maintenance.
Later today you will be hearing from Matthew Lugg on the highways asset management toolkit.
This resource is designed to help bolster highway engineers’ case for funding for highways maintenance.
Of course, if you want experts from the Department for Transport to help make that case to elected members in person, we are happy to assist.
Just let the department or I know.
Yet I also believe the time is ripe for us to make more use of new technology to support highway maintenance.
Right across the transport sector, new technology and ways of working are transforming how we get things done.
It’s a great opportunity for highways maintenance.
For example, technology can help us collect information about our assets, to ensure better decision making, to understand more about the materials we use and whole-life costs.
This is the right time for us all to shift our thinking as a sector.
And finally, I also believe we can do more to reduce the congestion on our local roads caused by road works.
There are over 2 million road works on local roads each year, costing over £4 billion.
We know that roadworks are essential.
But they shouldn’t be in place any longer than is absolutely necessary.
We are currently consulting on changes that could reduce the ‘A’ road congestion caused by road works left in unattended at weekends, and also to ensure removal of temporary traffic lights as soon as the works are complete.
And so, in conclusion.
The sector has come a long way over the past few years; by becoming more efficient, by adopting better principles of asset management, and by working more collaboratively.
Now we want highways authorities and their contractors to keep improving.
To keeping learning from one another.
To communicate, co-ordinate and plan ahead.
To adopt new technology and innovation.
To help make funding go further still.
By following and adopting these principles we will have better local road network and help keep the nation moving.