Last February in a desperate bid to limit their above-inflation council tax rise, Sutton Council’s Lib Dem administration cut £20,000 from their winter road maintenance budget. This decision was ratified by their Finance spokesman just a few feet away from people falling on the ice whilst trying to get into the Council Offices and just days after the heavy snowfall that did more to change people’s driving habits than 140 private planes descending on Copenhagen, albeit for a few days.
This cut came a few months before they spent £16,000 on new air conditioning for the Council leader’s office. Angry Sutton residents have been hitting the phones this week with complaints to the Council reaching levels last seen when a £35 per bag charge was slapped on green garden waste collections in the Borough.
When the first snow arrived this week the main roads had been gritted well with side roads left icy. Tuesday saw rain which had cleared much of the snow, suddenly freeze after a rapid drop in temperature. This caused chaos across the Borough with the main east-west arterial road at a total standstill. People reported 2 hour journeys to get from Cheam to Carshalton. Side roads were treacherous.
Now, no gritting effort is going to remove every flake of snow and trace of ice from the highways but people have got every right to be angry when short-sighted cuts are being made by politicians looking for the ‘low hanging fruit’ to make easy savings.
A mere ten months later, snow returns, everywhere grinds to a halt. The Sutton gritting team have been working hard throughout. Theirs is a thankless task, working around the clock to cope and keep us moving but there is more that we can do. There are plenty of residents who would be prepared to help grit their pavements. How many grit bins would £20,000 have paid for? Whether emergency bins are put out when the warnings come or permanent ones are opened ahead of the snowfall, either will do.
However if we are to trust people more rather than run everything from the warm and climate-controlled Council office, then we should help people to help themselves as well. Alternatively the Lib Dems could watch the roads freeze whilst they freeze the Council Tax just ahead of a difficult election campaign. Oh wait…!