The cost of pavement politics

by Stephen Tall on August 25, 2009

What’s cost the taxpayer £82m over the last five years? Answer: compensation claims against county councils and unitary authorities by members of the public who have tripped on pavements. The figures from 90 local authorities were obtained by the Lib Dems under Freedom of Information requests; there are still 10,000 claims unsettled.

Here’s what the Lib Dems’ shadow transport secretary Norman Baker had to say:

With council and household budgets under more pressure than ever, the last thing the local taxpayer needs is to be paying massive compensation claims for injuries caused by dangerous pavements. This is money that could have been spent on improving pavements and preventing these problems in the first place.

“Although some councils are investing heavily to improve their footways, others seem content to almost ignore pedestrians entirely. Too many councils seem interested only in motorists and not those who walk, cycle or take the bus.

“It appears that some councils seem to be making the cynical calculation that they can afford to pay out compensation rather than invest in improving pavements. This could prove to be a costly mistake if pavements are allowed to deteriorate too far.”

The story has been picked up by the BBC under the headline Pavement trips cost £82m. Unfortunately their report reveals a sting in the tail for the Lib Dems:

Leeds City Council had the highest compensation payment, which was £10.2m between 2004 and 2009. It was followed by Birmingham at £7.5m and Liverpool at £5.5m.

The party is of course in the administration of each of those councils: Leeds (in coalition with the Tories and independents), Birmingham (again with the Tories) and Liverpool (which we run). However, as I’m sure the councillors and council officers responsible would be quick to point out, they are among the largest metrolitan
authorities: it’s scarcely surprising their pavements are more worn, and the number of compensation claims correspondingly higher than in less-populated areas.