Fife Council says it's ready to tackle winter despite going 57% over budget last year

Fife road bosses say they are adequately prepared for winter 2021 despite exceeding last year’s budget by 57%.

Monday, 13th September 2021, 4:29 pm
The council says it can tackle winter.

The major snows of February this year, combined with generally harsh conditions between October and April, led to a spend almost £1.8 million higher than budgeted.

This was paid from the council’s reserves, but in the wake of the most recent extreme weather councillors agreed to look at how the authority could be better prepared for such events.

The subsequent taskforce then convened to review the council’s response concluded that the current level of resource is sufficient – but needs to be managed differently.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The cold brings a new batch of problems for local authorities.

Bill Liddle, roads maintenance manager, said: “The review concluded that the level of service will remain the same and there is sufficient resource to continue this level of service.”

Among the aspects of winter management that will be monitored more closely is the use of grit salt on the roads. Fife Council can spend up to £1m a year on salt, depending on the severity of the wintry climate.

Gritters used 22,393 tonnes of the substance last winter – a third more than on average – as locals contended with extreme conditions. It has responded to two other uncharacteristically brutal seasons in the last decade: the Beast from the East in 2017/18 and a prolonged icy spell from October 2012 to April 2013.

The council is pledging to make the most of what it has. As well as looking at where and when grit is spread, it is joining up teams of drivers from across departments to ensure the service has enough drivers to cover Fife’s 1,500 miles of road – or at least the 56% of that the authority considers top priority.

Routes are prioritised for gritting depending on whether they are major roads, bus routes, or are used to facilitate access to hospitals, fire stations and major transport hubs.

Lower priority routes, such as those enabling access to and from isolated villages and schools, may not be gritted depending on conditions.

Other measures are being introduced to make Fife’s gritting operations as smooth as possible.

Grit trucks are being equipped with telematics and hands-free satellite navigation to ensure drivers are safe and able to pick the most effective routes for spreading salt.

Salting itself is now being dealt with via automatic salting systems, giving drivers one less thing to worry about on the precarious winter roads.

These measures, councillors believe, will ensure the authority makes the most of the 158 staff, 29 primary vehicles and 60 backup gritters it has on call to deal with frosty footpaths and rimy roads.

Cllr Altany Craik, convener of the transportation committee, said: “Every year we have this workshop of how things went and the process of doing that on a regular basis means we can adapt and change as time goes on.

“The reality is we don’t have the budget we used to have, and the budget for these services has been hit hard. We’re doing more with less.”