I work for a firm that does software for local highway authorities, so I know a bit about the topic.
There's a series of problems. Much as I'd like to see us get shot of Gordon Brown though, none are specifically his fault ...
1) Many local highway departments are incompetent
They have poor reporting systems and poor followup procedures for the few reports they log effectively. They have poor mechanisms for prioritising road schemes. In many cases, they're just chasing the worst roads (an approach which simply sees the network as a whole get worse at the greatest level of expense) rather than doing proper long term planning. Some local highway departments don't even have accurate records of what roads they have (length, width, location) and their condition. And as for records of street lights ... don't get me started. There are some notable exceptions to these however, and there are some very good highway depts. Even in these cases there will be some roads that are in poor repair, simply necause they have to prioritise.
2) There has been no accurate way of valuing roads and the work needed to repair them
This is the main source of the lack of funds - highway departments, and the DfT, have not had the financial tools to value the road infrastructure or define the depreciation to the road network (which is effectively the cost to repair them to "as new" condition". This is changing - there's new valuation mechanisms coming in this year - but it will take a few years and will be a massive shock when the numbers roll in! One of the problems is that to accurately value the road network and measure the work that needs to be done, you have to have an accurate inventory of what you have ... see 1) above
3) There's no direct financial penalty on councils or councillors for poor roads
Although the road network depreciates in financial terms if it has degraded, the depreciation is reversed out of the accounts before it hits the bottom line! This means that maintaining the roads has a direct financial cost, but letting them fail has no direct cost. To fix this would blow a massive whole in local government accounts, and nobody wants to talk about it.
4) The DfT as "Sergeant Wilson"
Remember Sergeant Wilson in Dad's Army? "If you wouldn't mind awfully falling in, it would be terribly convenient ... ". That's the way that the DfT work with local highway departments. The DfT know the right way of doing things, and they know which councils are failing in their highway duties, but they won't do anything about it.
What can we do?
If there's one effective thing we can do it's to report potholes when we find them. Roads may only be inspected by the council every 6 or 12 months, and they rely on reports from the public for the vast majority of pothole notices.
If a pothole has been reported and no repair made in a reasonable time, and then there's an accident, the council is liable. None of them want this, and most will do at least a "shovel of ashphalt" repair within a day or two. Most will also record if there's a lot of different potholes on a stretch of road and then prioritise that section for resurfacing.
Most councils have some kind of mechanism on their website to report potholes. If they don't, just email their main customer services email address. Give as much detail as possible - if it's a single pothole say not only the road but also what number (or business) it's outside of, and where it is on the road (which carriageway, edge or centre). If it's several potholes, say what junctions they're between. In all cases, say how deep you think they are (most councils will only fill potholes deeper than 40mm).