At average 1981–82 prices, expenditure on new construction of motorways and trunk roads in England was £404 million in 1980–81, £447 million in 1981–82 and £515 million in 1982–83. The corresponding expenditure figures for local roads are £465 million, £375 million and £365 million. Figures for 1982–83 are still provisional.
As the Government aim to improve industrial efficiency, and as a better road system would contribute to that, does my hon. Friend agree that we should spend far more on new road construction than has recently been the case?
My hon. Friend will be aware that we are now doing far better in new road construction and structural maintenance to keep our older roads and motorways in good condition. He will also be aware that we took an extra £45 million in the Supplementary Estimates last year to increase trunk road spending. We shall maintain that progress.
If in Cumbria substantial economies can be made if the county council rather than private consultants acts as road construction agents, will the hon. Lady favour the county authority?
I am not sure whether I entirely follow the hon. Gentleman's drift, for the simple reason that the planning of roads by many counties is not more cost-effective or cheaper than putting the work out to consultants. However, in general the policy is that where a county council that has done the preparation work has a specific know-how, it will often continue the preparation work for that Department. Where there is no such expertise, the job, if it can be done as well, or better, will go to the consulting engineers.
As some new road construction has been held up in the past because of an insufficient pool of projects that had completed planning and other procedures, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that in future there will always be a sufficient pool and allocate resources to achieve that objective?
My right hon. Friend is well aware that in the last 18 months I have sought to add to the pool so that there are plenty of schemes. That is why last October we added 21 schemes to the pool, and in May this year I announced an additional 43 schemes so that these would be ready as soon as resources were available to build them. As my right hon. Friend is aware, we are now building more roads with fewer resources than we were two or three years ago.
The figures given by my hon. Friend show a strange divergence between central Government spending, which is rising, and local spending, which is falling. What can she do to remedy that?
My hon. Friend may be aware that we have been discussing the possibility of giving local government flexibility to spend its capital allocation on structural maintenance. We are about to consult the local authorities so that they may use their capital allocation for the maintenance of good existing roads, with a far better road surface, as an alternative to embarking necessarily on vast new roads. That proposal is just about to go out to consultation.
I can give the hon. Gentleman the answer right away. I intend to absorb the 2 per cent. savings within the management of the trunk road construction and maintenance programme without affecting the impetus of the national motorway building programme.