Is Scotland failing to learn the lessons of coping with severe weather?

With the snow and ice wreaking havoc once more, questions are being asked over the SNP-led Scottish Government’s ability to cope with the bad weather.

News that Fife Council is receiving what it describes as a “much needed boost” to its supplies of salt to grit ice covered roads is undoubtedly good news in the midst of one of the coldest snaps for many years. However the end results have hidden a lack of communications between Ministers in Scotland and officials.

According to Fife Council, stocks of salt had completely diminished prior to their being re-stocked on Monday afternoon. Bob McLellan, Head of Transportation at Fife Council told the BBC that the authority had “virtually no salt left at all”, adding:

“We have been let down quite badly by our supplier but having said that the suppliers are having to keep all the councils in the UK happy in very difficult times.”

Furthermore, The Scotsman have identified a number of other councils across the country which have also faced problems with the supply of grit.

For the Scottish Government, however, Finance and Sustainable Growth Secretary, John Swinney, appeared to contradict Fife Council’s interpretation of events. He said:

“Salt levels are sufficient at present to deal with the situation – any suggestion to the contrary is not correct – and our operating companies are regularly replenishing their stocks.”

Reacting to the somewhat opposing interpretations of events, Labour’s Transport Spokesman Charlie Gordon said on Monday:

“The Scottish Government appears to be saying this morning that everything is under control but the evidence does not support that with many roads and pavements still covered by snow and ice.

“With more freezing temperatures on their way it’s vital that the Government acts to keep Scotland moving.”

Similarly, in raising fears for the safety of motorists, Paul Watters, Head of Roads Policy at the AA told The Herald:

“It is unthinkable we should reach a situation like this. It is a desperate situation for Scotland’s drivers and we have to ask what is the plan now?”

Given that warnings of a prolonged period of sub-zero temperatures have been in force for a substantial period of time, it begs the question why both local and national Government in Scotland allowed stocks of salt to get so low in the first place, rather than anticipating future need, based on forecasts, and ordering extra stocks in advance.

Furthermore, the concerns raised by a number of local authorities raise questions about how many of the lessons from the UK Parliament’s Transport Select Committee have been learnt, following last February’s severe snow storms which saw London’s transport system grind to a halt.

Lessons will have to be learnt to ensure improved communications and greater clarity for the public during periods of severe weather.

Furthermore, the event raises questions over whether the Scottish Government have in place the appropriate mechanisms to learn what policy does and does not work and incident management from not only London but also Cardiff Bay and Stormont.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.