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Councils shrank road salt orders

[Wednesday 29 December 2010]

As a thaw began to take hold in western parts of the Yorkshire Dales – although more severe weather is forecast – a leading spending watchdog says that local councils ordered less road salt this winter despite last year’s big freeze.

At the same time, it was said that North Yorkshire County Council suffered the biggest salt shortage in England last year and had to place last minute emergency orders worth more than a staggering half million pounds.

Last year’s weather was the coldest for some 35 years and dozens of council were caught out after a decade or so of mild winters – which were predicted then and again this year by the Met.Office.

According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, by cutting their regular orders, dozens of councils ended up paying out of total of £10.5 million extra in emergency supplies costing three or four times the normal price.

The organisation says that North Yorkshire had to fork out an extra £533,652.

But this winter is already proving to be much worse – this has been the coldest December for more than 100 years when records began – and yet, once again, councils have cut their salt orders, says the alliance.

Said their policy analyst Chris Daniel: “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."

A spokesman for North Yorkshire Highways said: “It seems that the Taxpayers Alliance have misinterpreted the figures. The emergency stocks of salt bought last winter amounted to less than ten per cent of the total used to grit the county’s roads in the winter of 2009-10.

“At the start of last winter, North Yorkshire had over 50,000 tonnes of road salt in stock, and at the start of this winter we had over 50,000 tonnes in stock. Our salt barns were full, and the amount we held was some three times the amount recommended by the Government. As the winter progresses, and stocks are used, they are replenished. It is unsurprising that the figure for North Yorkshire is a high one, since North Yorkshire is England’s largest county, and has a highways network extending to some five thousand miles.”

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