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The nationalisation of grit

Lamb Cllr Alan Lamb, a Conservative councillor in Leeds, on how the Government have made matters worse during the cold snap.

Last year, Leeds City Council got through 20,000 tonnes of grit. Last winter was one of the coldest we’ve had for several years. This year, we had stockpiled 21,000 tonnes before the current cold snap began before Christmas. We also had further advance orders in place for early January in anticipation of the big freeze to come. I doubt that there was a better prepared authority in the country. It meant we were able, with confidence, to keep the primary network fully gritted.

It meant we were able to grit the secondary network regularly and it meant on occasion we were able to grit deep into many estates. You may recall that we suffered a similar cold snap, although not as long, early last year. Again, many authorities and the Government were poorly prepared.  You may also recall that the Prime Minister promised to do “everything necessary” (a phrase which sounds so threatening every time he utters it) to ensure we were well prepared in future.

He commissioned a report, as he so often does, which was prepared last summer and made various recommendations particularly around the availability of salt. Of course, a reasonably competent Government would start thinking about their winter preparations around the time the report was delivered to them, perfect timing you might think?  So what did this Government do?  How did you guess?  They buried it in a filing cabinet somewhere in deepest Whitehall, sandwiched between tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime and a file marked education, education, education.  A couple of days before the cold snap was forecast someone cleverly remembered the report and dusted it down to see all the things they could and should have been doing in the preceding few months to make sure we were prepared. 

Essentially, the thrust of the report was quite simple, make sure we’ve got a bit more grit this year.  Some councils, Leeds being one of them, managed to come to these conclusions by themselves, others did not.  If we had been left to get on with our own plans, if our planned deliveries had materialised instead of being confiscated by the Government we could have confidently maintained the same level of service.  Instead, now that the Government has effectively nationalised the grit supply we have to wait and get what we are given. Those authorities who had the least stockpiled and ran out incredibly quickly will be given priority. 

As usual with this Government, success is penalised and failure rewarded.  Our staff have done a tremendous job so far keeping the road network open in the most exceptional circumstances and they along with those responsible for planning & preparing for such eventualities deserve great credit & thanks.  Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we will have to consider prioritising some roads over others.  Of course, if the Government had acted on the report they commissioned when they got it we wouldn’t be in this position.  If this is doing everything possible I’d hate to see what happened if they did nothing.  Good work Gordon.


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