Visiting Wales yesterday, David Cameron said there were 'lessons to learn' from the Government's handling of the extreme weather Britain has been experiencing. Quoted in The Daily Mail, he said:
"I think there are questions to ask and there are obviously lessons to learn. To be fair this is a very long and a very deep cold snap, so I think we have to be fair about that. But we are going to see more extreme weather events and we have to prepare for them better and we probably do need to have larger stocks to make sure councils, not just in Wales but up and down the country, have larger stocks so they can cope with longer sessions."
On ConservativeHome yesterday, Caroline Spelman accused Labour of taking its "eye off the ball" in its preparations for severe weather.
Pasted below we publish the words of Cllr Matthew Dean, the Cabinet Member for Environment & Transport on Southampton City Council. He warns of a severe national shortage of salt and difficulty decisions by local authorities in deciding which roads to protect. The article was submitted at 8pm yesterday evening.
A combination of good luck and good management meant that Southampton City Council happened to be one of the best prepared local authorities in the country at the start of the cold weather with over 10 days salt stock (triple some authorities), a fleet of highway gritting machines (albeit some rather elderly) and a flexible workforce to get the salt out onto our roads (unlike some authorities, our refuse collectors, parks and open spaces staff, road gangs are all obliged to ‘muck in’).
Yes, as a result of our prudence and this Labour government's indolence, we are now being penalised as we have been told we are not a 'priority authority' (I wonder where is?) despite snow being forecast here over the weekend with the result we are severely having to ration where we salt.
As I write, in Southampton, we currently (8pm) have about 70t of pure rock salt in the depot. This is enough for 3 days light salting of just our ‘A-routes’ (local authority speak for key roads to hospitals, city centres, major retailers, employers etc, not to be confused with a roads).
Our final delivery of 30t direct from salt union turned up this morning. Earlier today, confusion reigned as initially local authorities were informed that all future deliveries will be managed through the government’s ‘Salt Cell’. Later today it emerged the Salt Cell’s recommendations to the Salt Union (one of two UK deep salt mine suppliers) were not binding so ultimately everyone and no one was in charge today prior to Adonis's evening statement by which time the government the realised it could no longer continue to fudge the issue.
Every council will have different levels of salt stocks (my guess in anything from no virtually salt to 6 days on a-routes). Certainly the Salt Cell is aware of our salt position and we have to be seen to use our stocks wisely but we have to allow for the possibility of needing to grit B routes at least once over the next 3 days and prior to the return to work (hopefully) on Monday. This assumption doesn’t factor in the possibility that any rain will require an additional salting of the road network. Like most authorities, at the moment we are responding to ad hoc requests for salting and gritting with priority being given to hospitals, emergency services, buses, precincts etc. It is Officer's strong highway operational advice that we do not prioritise salt reserves to filling grit bins which in itself may cause a little public unrest this weekend (if we did, we would use the equivalent salt in the bins to one A route run). Instead, the council will respond to requests for refilling, by stating we will prioritise all requests for salt, but we have to keep the city main routes clear. We are asking that all salt requests should go through the council's Actionline service so they can be recorded and prioritised and have mobile resources available that will respond to requests based on our assessment of risk.
The grim reality is that there is now a national shortage of salt and if the weather is as forecast over the weekend that could develop into a severe national shortage due to poor government planning.
The key message to residents is that it is vital that extreme care is taken during the next few days and only to travel if it is absolutely imperative to do so.
And the second message is as a result of bureaucratic incompetence both prior and during the current cold snap, this government has left the country ill prepared."