Between October and November, Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in East Anglia conducted a series of roundtable meetings with MPs across Norfolk and Suffolk. FSB members in each constituency were invited to the meetings in order to provide their insights into the critical challenges facing small businesses across the region.
The meetings covered a range of topics – from business rates to Brexit – but no issue was raised more frequently than that of road infrastructure. For small firms, transport connectivity is a vital concern: FSB’s own research shows that 89% of small businesses place a high value on the road network, and that it is a particular priority for those in rural areas.
Calls for improvements to key routes across East Anglia are backed by major campaigns. The A47 Alliance – which FSB has recently joined – is seeking a commitment from the government to fund the full dualling of the road, which is a key main east-west connection in the region, by 2030. The No More A14 Delays in Suffolk has outlined a series of “pinch points” on the road and is seeking funding to address them in the second round of the government’s Road Investment Strategy, between 2020-25.
However, for many small businesses, the maintenance of the existing road network is of at least as much concern, and has been given added urgency this year by the clear evidence of its deterioration. In a recent submission to a Parliamentary inquiry on local roads, Suffolk County Council confirmed that in each of the first four months on 2018 it had received over 2,000 reports of potholes. This figure would, during the first part of the year, ordinarily be in the region of 750 per month.
Overall, road failures in the county resulted in an average of 2,140 orders per month for reactive repairs between January and May 2018 – an increase of 75% on the preceding year. The council said that it had “every expectation that the level of public satisfaction with the condition of roads in Suffolk will fall some way from its current level”.
FSB members in East Anglia would like to see more emphasis given by policy-makers to the maintenance and improvement of the local road network. Potholes are only one part of the issue. Supply chains are being disrupted by poorly-managed roadworks, and in particular emergency repairs that are being undertaken owing to a lack of road maintenance. Broken and missing road signs can result in damaged vehicles and livelihoods. In turn, these problems disincentivise customers from entering local town centres, costing small firms on the high street at an already-challenging time.
Funding for the Strategic Road Network (SRN) – which includes the A47 and A14 – is ring-fenced and allocated on a five-year rolling basis. By contrast, local authorities work within extremely tight budgets to maintain local roads, and without any long-term financial commitment. We believe that this approach is short-sighted, and that local roads ought to be given the same importance as the SRN and the Major Road Network, on the introduction of which the government consulted earlier this year.
We also believe that more preventative measures and proactive monitoring would improve the management of local roads. Local authorities should, learning from trailblazer councils, consider adopting monitoring innovations that would highlight the need for road repairs at an earlier stage.
The government’s own analysis has shown that the economic case for road maintenance is strong; it is time that the funding for local road networks reflected their importance within our transport infrastructure.
What do you see as the key transport infrastructure challenges facing Norfolk and Suffolk? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07866 977970.