RURAL business leaders are urging councils not to cut back on repairs to roads damaged by freezing temperatures.
With councils already facing severe budget cuts, business leaders said minor roads provided a vital lifeline for rural businesses and needed to be well maintained.
"Freezing conditions always herald the start of the pothole season," said Dorothy Fairburn, northern region director for the Country Land and Business Association.
"While local councils are usually quick to repair damage to major roads they are often more tardy in their approach to minor routes.
"As the ongoing austerity measures continue to bite, we are seriously concerned that cash-starved councils will be tempted to further neglect rural roads, which are a key part of the infrastructure that underpins the rural economy."
Miss Fairburn added: "In the current economic climate rural businesses cannot afford to be further disadvantaged by having to pay hefty repair bills for vehicles damaged by potholes."
According to the website potholes.co.uk, potholes are estimated to cause as many as one in five mechanical failures on UK roads, costing motorists an estimated £320 million every year.
With the government in charge of the purse-strings, however, many rural councils face tight budgets.
Recent research from the Rural Services Network revealed that local authorities face bigger cuts than their urban counterparts.
The network continues to call on ministers to recognise the additional expense of delivering services in sparsely populated areas.
Councils in England and Wales paid a total of £22.8m in compensation to road users for damage caused by potholes, with councils in north west England paying out the most at £8m.
Research by consumer group Which? found that the backlog of road repairs per local authority in England is getting bigger.
Since 2009, the backlog of pothole repairs has grown from £53.2m to £61.3m in 2012 on average per local authority.
It is estimated that it would cost £12.93bn to clear the entire maintenance backlog in the UK.
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