Winter costs SBC £3m plus

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WINTER now lasts from November 1 to March 31 according to Scottish Borders Council, and any wintery weather before or after that date will be dealt with on an “ad-hoc” basis.

Balancing the provision of adequate winter services while at the same time trying to make £50,000 of savings was weighed up by councillors at Tuesday’s executive meeting but while cutbacks were approved, the saving of £100,000 by reducing night shift cover across the region was considered a risk too far.

In drawing up a winter service plan, council officials looked at reducing the night shift cover from six to three employees, with drivers covering Kelso/Duns, Peebles/Galashiels and Newtown St Boswells/Hawick. They concluded that: “The operational security of having personnel available to deal with changes in night time conditions as well as emergency incidents is considerable. Officers have concluded that the night time winter service coverage should remain unchanged due to a need to be able to provide a winter service, outwith normal working hours, and within the EU rules.

“Managers will, however, review the activities that can be undertaken by staff during the night-time period to ensure that they are deployed as effectively as possible.”

The current budget for winter service this year is £2.665 million but the last two winters actually cost £3.5 million each, and costs for an average winter are estimated at just over £3 million. Although the council has identified savings of £50,000 there is still a projected overspend of over £300,000.

A review of routes designated as the primary route network is currently underway, the council looking to reduce the length of road receiving pre-treatment.

The winter desk which has so far provided a 24/7 ice detection service between October and April will now only operate between 4am-8pm. Its role has been to act as an emergency point of contact for the public and also as a contact point for council drivers. However, the winter desk has tended to be used by the public for general roads advice rather than emergencies, and customer information will in future be dealt with by the customer services teams, while council drivers will contact their on-duty supervisor rather than the winter desk.

Salt stores in all eight depots across the Borders are full (a total of 19,000 tonnes) but over the last two winters the council used 35,000 and 33,500 respectively and they are now looking at increasing their salt storage capacity, admitting that their salt supplies were stretched last winter.

“At one point during January 2011 the council had less than 1,000 tonnes of salt in stock,” said Robert Young, Colin Ovens, David Richardson and Kenny Hastings in a report to councillors.

“Luckily, recovery from this situation was through a period of milder weather when no salt was used coupled with deliveries.”

They are looking at the possibility of identifying a temporary covered salt store where they could stockpile an additional 8,000 tonnes of salt which would cost them around £200,000, whereas an emergency delivery of the same amount through the Government’s strategic salt store would cost around £600,000.

In an effort to save £30,000 the council tried to test out two salt additive products last winter but the weather was so severe that it was impossible to tell how effective these substitutes were and as no obvious savings could be identified councillors agreed to discontinue the trials.

Six of the council’s gritting fleet have automated treatment capabilities which control the salt spreading on a gritting route and reduce wastage but when the council looked into equipping all their gritters with the automated treatment option the costs were prohibitive. Instead it was agreed to gradually replace the gritters with the automated treatment gritters as part of their on-going plant replacement programme.