West Lothian councillors' call for flexible winter response
West Lothian councillors have demanded a flexible response to meet winter weather crises similar to earlier this year.
Calls by SNP councillors were echoed by the Conservative group leader as the head of Operational Services revealed details of a review his service had carried out in the wake of widespread criticism of the gritting and snow clearing service failures .
Jim Jack tabled a report which promised changes to the services which are put in place at the end of October. Chief among these next winter will be the utilisation of a £1 million Winter Resilience Fund and the introduction of two teams of staff dedicated to keeping grit bins filled across the county so residents can salt paths and driveways.
That was a key criticism at the start of this year. Residents keen to help themselves could not because bins remained empty once cleared.
Mr Jack’s report also detailed changes including more salt pick-up points for the public increasing the number of sites from 15 to 23,and including more remote sites for the first time. The plan also includes a £250,000 contingency fund to meet extra demand for contractors to be brought in.
The proposals are planned to start 2021-22 and be funded for three years. The new self service salt pick-up points and the dedicated grit bin crews will cost £750,000 over the period.
The SNPs Diane Calder asked for flexibility when it came to the provision of grit bins. The council provides 2,500 grit bins.
Councillor Calder said: “We have seen people are more than happy to fill up grit bins from salt pick-up points but they need to have the bins. I’d like to see more flexibility in that provision.”
Mr Jack pointed out that the increase in pick-up points would help smaller communities which did not have clearing resources such as pavement tractors. Providing grit bins on every street would be difficult to fund.
Councillor Calder said the requests that were made for bins had been sensible ones.
Depute SNP group leader Councillor Frank Anderson said there was a lot of good in the plan but asked why the planned salt pick-up point in Craigshill was at Craigswood, the highest point in the community when the Mall car park in Adelaide Street would be more central.
He also suggested split shifts for staff would make it easier to keep paths clear later in the afternoons when people were returning from work. Under the existing plans crews start at 5am and finish at 3pm.
Mr Jack said the sites had been chosen because they were in council ownership . He said he was happy to have a look at the Mall site. On the subject of staffing, he said would not have staffing level to put on a split shift in a normal winter.
Tory group leader Damian Doran-Timson thanked Mr Jack for the proposals but said councillors Calder and Anderson had raised good points about flexibility.
He paraphrased the words of Second War fighter pilot Douglas Bader when he said “rules were for guidance not obedience”.
He said that the rigid rules had led to the council being caught out last winter “Are we not setting ourselves up here with a very rigid protocols on grit bins. Can we not add in some degree flexibility into this plan?”
He added he was not trying to take away from the good decision made by officers in presenting the plans.
Mr Jack said he appreciated the point about flexibility but added that the council did need some set of parameters to work round. parts of the contingency fund could help flexibility.