Councils 'have ordered less gritting salt than last year'

LOCAL councils have ordered less road salt to treat icy roads this year than last year, according to the TaxPayers' Alliance.

The councils have ordered 1.48 million tonnes in 2010/11 compared with just under 1.51 million tonnes in 2009/10, a report by the alliance said.

It added that 75 of the 205 UK councils surveyed had not received all of this year's road salt order.

The alliance also looked at the cost of purchasing emergency supplies of road salt in 2009/10 which came to 10.5 million.

The amount spent varied considerably, with Newcastle council spending 331,400 on emergency road salt but neighbouring Sunderland not spending anything.

Similarly, Bradford spent 286,000 while Leeds spent 13,400.

TaxPayers' Alliance policy analyst Chris Daniel said: "Many councils were clearly unprepared for the latest icy spell, because they had ordered less salt than they did last year.

"It is unacceptable for councils to write off their failings by claiming that extreme winters in Britain are too rare an event for it to be worth preparing. This winter is the third in a row where severe weather has swept across the UK, so councils and highways agencies have no excuses for not having everything in place."

He went on: "While some seem to have learnt from last year and ordered extra supplies for the current winter period, others have not.

"It's not fair that such an oversight is going to result in a multi-million pound bill for hardworking taxpayers, so the councils can buy emergency salt, and provide a lower standard of service."

The TaxPayers' Alliance said the council which spent the most on emergency salt in 2009/10 was North Yorkshire, with 533,652.

The alliance said the report was compiled using responses from Freedom of Information requests submitted to every county, unitary and metropolitan borough council in the UK as well as to Transport Scotland, Northern Ireland Road Service, Transport for London and the Highways Agency.

It added that the information was correct as of November 22 2010 and was based on the total amount of road salt councils ordered in 2009/10 and 2010/11, and separately for the cost of procuring road salt on an emergency basis for the last winter period (2009/10).

Councillor Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association's economy and transport board, said the TaxPayers' Alliance research was "flawed" and "nothing more than an attempt to stir up panic".

He said the alliance had compared eight months' worth of salt orders with an entire years' worth.

Mr Box said: "The simple fact is that councils prepared even better for this winter, and started it with a third more salt stockpiled than last year. This was verified yesterday by the Government's own independent expert, David Quarmby."

Mr Quarmby's Whitehall-commissioned report said local highway authorities had performed well overall but added: "While many deliver a high level of winter service, others can still improve further."

He also warned: "In spite of record salt stocks and the new national strategic reserve, Government and highway authorities may find it challenging to meet requirements for the rest of the winter.

"To ease the large demand for road salt, a priority should be making the guidance on lower spread rates produced by the national winter service research group available to all authorities urgently in an easily accessible format."