What is the REAL cost of Herts County Council’s 20mph Speed Management Strategy?
In 2020, Hertfordshire County Council announced a £7m budget for future 20mph schemes across the county, but how much had the county council already spent on 20mph projects before the announcement? A member of 20’s Plenty for Herts has spent quite a few months trying to find out the actual cost of the Herts County Council 20mph policy.
We all know the road safety and community benefits of slower traffic where we live. But what is extraordinary is that Hertfordshire County Council is spending vast sums on 20mph schemes in areas where the impact is minimal – in neighbourhoods where traffic speed is already low. The Council’s is planning to spend over £7 million to create just a handful of such schemes. Meanwhile, people across the county are left with little prospect of seeing safer roads in their neighbourhoods.
So, over the last year, a 20’s Plenty for Herts member has been trying to find out from the County Council’s finance department what evidence underpins the Council’s very expensive approach to implementing its Speed Management Strategy. An approach which is costing up to ten times more than that spent by comparable local highway authorities.
The issues we raised included:
The County Council doesn’t know how much it has spent on 20mph traffic schemes already implemented.
Its officers never inform councillors about cost effective practice for 20mph policies elsewhere (notably other counties such as Lancashire which covered the whole of the county for £6million).
None of the reports to councillors making decisions include Department for Transport data on casualties and costs arising from road traffic collisions (the cost of a single fatality from a road collision is nearly £2m and for a serious casualty nearly £200,000).
There is a lack of evidence to support the £7 million budget for future 20mph schemes.
It took four months, and numerous reminders, to obtain a reply from Herts County Council. Even this response was inadequate. Apart from confirming that the council does not have an accurate picture of expenditure, it showed that the council has not subjected its very expensive approach to speed management to any proper value for money (VFM) analysis. The response merely stated:
“With regards to VFM, as mentioned in my earlier email, the approach for the Council is to make sure through the road layout and conditions that the measures work in terms of managing vehicle speeds and behaviours which is a fundamental aspect of the Hertfordshire Speed Management Strategy. This is likely to be a more costly option than signage alone, but equally is more likely to be effective in reducing speed in those areas.”
Our reply to the Council’s Finance Officers highlighted that this was not VFM. It stated:
“Value for Money (or Cost/Benefit studies) also examines, as I’m sure you are aware, the outcomes of scheme expenditure. I have not seen any analysis of the effectiveness of HCC’s Speed Management reported to elected members. Contrast this with (for example) a recent report (21st June 2022) to the Cheshire West & Chester Council Scrutiny Committee which studies a total of 77 schemes delivered in year 4 of the programme at approximate total cost of £215,000. Over the four years of Cheshire West & Chester Council’s 20mph programme there has been: 43% reduction in road traffic collisions; 24% reduction in Killed and Seriously Injured (KSI) road traffic collisions; and an annual cost saving to the community in road traffic collisions of £3.7m per year (based on the Department for Transport’s current average cost of a road traffic collision)”
We concluded that there is a prima facie case for the Council’s audit or scrutiny officers to investigate this wasteful and ineffective use of millions of pounds of public funds. Despite several reminders, we have not had a reply in the five months since the above was submitted.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the county council does not have “proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources” as required by law. Bland statements from the council are not sufficient – there needs to be evidence. Hertfordshire County Council’s officers have been unable to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of their programmes through the usual methods of demonstrating value for money:
Comparisons of policy options and costs with other similar authorities
Analysis of detailed research on the costs of road traffic casualties (provided annually by the Department for Transport)
Comparison of outcomes deaths and serious injuries in highway authorities (again provided annually by the Department for Transport)
The County Council was unable (or refused) to respond to our suggestion that there is a prima facie case for the Council’s audit or scrutiny officers to investigate. So we have taken the matter up with the Council’s external auditor.