I thank the Member for his question. On the issue of vacancies, at the end of March 2021, the Department had 2,991 staff in post and 418 vacancies. It is important to point out that, of those vacancies, 86 were industrial posts and 332 were non-industrial, so they were administrative and part-time grades. We are working hard to ensure that we can fill affordable vacancies as quickly as possible. On the issue of structural maintenance, the Member will be aware that I set up a rural roads fund in the previous financial year and allocated £10 million to it.
I recognise the importance of trying to address regional imbalances across the North, but I also recognise the state of some of our rural roads and the impact that that has on local communities and businesses. Although I have yet to finalise my budget for the new financial year, I appreciate the importance of rural roads and the need for significant improvements to them.
I remain committed to a rural roads fund, but the consideration that I have now is the amount of money that I will allocate to it. My intention is that, certainly, there will not be any reduction in the rural roads fund in the new financial year.