The pothole black hole

Today’s Express & Star has revealed just how much neglect of roads and pavements around the West Midlands and Black Country is costing the taxpayer, and the figures are rather alarming.

Top of the list comes Sandwell Council who’ve spent no less than £31,835 dealing with claims, including almost £18k divvied out as compensation for knocks, scrapes, trips, bumps and injuries. According to a Freedom of Information request returned to the newspaper, one local claimant was awarded £4,766 in a case that also saw the authority part with more than £5k in legal fees.

It’s a pricey business, and easily exploited when road and pavement surfaces aren’t properly maintained by those responsible.

Sandwell’s ‘neighbourhood’s chief’, Councillor Mahboob Hussain states, “We are well geared up when people report these issues and look into them as soon as possible. I don’t think potholes are something we’ve got a big problem with.” The words ‘ostriches’, 'heads' and ‘sand’ spring to mind…

Whatever “geared up” means, it’s foolish to shrug off the fact that tens of thousands of pounds of hardworking taxpayers’ money is being frittered year-after-year on these perfectly avoidable compensation cases.

Other local councils have a better track record but they’ve all shelled out over the past twelve months, with Dudley paying out £5,672 in compensation, Staffs losing £8,908 (and almost £40k in the past five years) and Walsall dropping a hefty £18,000 in 07/08 and a massive £227,000 in compensation over the last 8 years!

So taxpayers are paying twice, first for the maintenance of the roads and then again for whatever damage is caused through the absence of this very maintenance. Is there a single private service that could get away with this same practice?

And of course, it isn’t just the direct cost of potholes and hazardous pavements that affects the local population. Having an injury or damaging your vehicle is stressful, time consuming, can incur personal costs such as time of work and – in the first instance – it can be pretty painful and unpleasant, not to mention the potential costs to businesses and strain on the NHS. And though it’s important that drivers and individuals remain honest and shoulder responsibility when they are at fault (rather than palm-off the blame and take the money as is too often the way), in the costly cases mentioned above the local authorities have fully admitted that they're liable, so whilst we’re all paying our taxes they really must do what they have to to obliterate these instances and conserve our money.

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