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Wick councillor highlights 'chronic underspend' of £1m on Caithness roads


By David G Scott

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A Highland councillor talked of a £1m chronic underspend of funding for Caithness roads that has allowed them to "fall apart".

Raymond Bremner, a councillor for the Wick and east Caithness ward, brought the matter to the attention of the Highland Council leader and highlighted the issue with a graph detailing the underspend in surface dressing for the county's roads.

This graph shared by Councillor Bremner shows a clear underspend in the roads budget for Caithness. The amount committed was £1.46m but only £0.4m was spent.
This graph shared by Councillor Bremner shows a clear underspend in the roads budget for Caithness. The amount committed was £1.46m but only £0.4m was spent.

“From the figures that I have been reviewing, there’s been a chronic underspend of committed funding in Caithness," said Councillor Bremner. He added that it begs the question, "what is the point of making the money available if we then don’t spend it?"

The graph shows that over the period 2016 - 2022 the amount committed was £1.46m but only £0.4m was spent on surface dressing on Caithness roads. Three years showed there was money allocated to Caithness but no significant spend occurred. The underspend for the period was over £1m.

"This year, I’ve been taking a keen interest in making sure that we deliver the programme of funding that was committed to at various council meetings since March. I know that the council has spent nearly the whole of the previous annual capital budget in just over four months but it would appear that the considerable underspend, particularly in respect of surface dressing, has allowed our roads to simply fall apart."

The councillor says that surface dressing helps sustain road surfaces and extends their lifetime but added, however, that there has not been "any real amount" of surface dressing work carried out in Caithness for some years.

Councillor Raymond Bremner points out the importance of surface dressing for the county's roads. Picture: DGS
Councillor Raymond Bremner points out the importance of surface dressing for the county's roads. Picture: DGS

"We are not the only area affected in Highland but Caithness and Sutherland appear to be the worst. If we are going to sort the problem, we need to know what is creating the problem is. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve asked for the whole road’s strategy to be referred to the council’s Redesign Board."

Councillor Bremner said he has pushed for increased funding for the county's roads "in order to recover the position" but added it was important to ensure that the extra money gets spent and in the time period it is allocated for. The capital listing for roads in Caithness at the beginning of March was £3.2m and the council committed in the region of £3.55m to it for this year and next.

Badly potholed road near Freswick. Picture: DGS
Badly potholed road near Freswick. Picture: DGS

"That’s the first time that I have known committed funds to be more than the capital list for repairs but that list seems to be increasing at the rate of £0.5m per year. It gives us an idea of the immediate challenge in terms of what new finance we need to realise, an extra £1m for this year and next.

"The list is created by our road’s engineers and is not exhaustive. However, the underspend has happened, we need to reverse this, increase the funding and make sure it is spent. What resource do we need to spend all the money? A robust strategy needs to be put in place to stop the issue worsening and to strategically recover the position. Our communities deserve this.”

Highland Council confirmed today it had carried out 17 surface-dressing schemes as part of its 2021/22 roads maintenance programme for the county. Work costing almost £260,000 has resulted in almost 12 miles of local authority roads in Caithness being repaired.

Related article:

WATCH: Council roadworks costing almost £260,000 completed in Caithness


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