How ready was DCC to grit roads?

The AA has warned that not all local authorities are ready to deal with the icy conditions this winter is already experiencing.

The AA has warned that not all local authorities are ready to deal with the icy conditions this winter is already experiencing.

Winter gritting Questions and Answer with Alastair Kight, managing director of GRITIT :

Q: Response to AA warning on salt supplies

A: The AA issued a timely warning about salt stocks being held by local authorities. The fear is that if we do have another harsh winter, then relying on deliveries of salt to replenish stocks as they're running out could cause critical shortages.

As the UK's leading commercial gritting specialist, we're less concerned with the highways and roads, but can see parallel risks in terms of how business clear snow and ice from car parks. The AA point out that thousands are killed and injured in road accidents on icy roads, but NHS figures show that thousands of people are also admitted to hospitals each year from slipping on ice and snow. As with the highways and local authorities, there is a real risk to the public and employees if property owners and businesses haven't taken care to adequately plan for adverse winter conditions, either by sourcing grit supplies or engage a gritting company.

Q: Can businesses do more?

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A: The first frosts are already upon us, so we'd urge all businesses that haven't done so to review their arrangements as a matter of urgency. This could prevent the needless suffering that is caused by avoidable accidents but its also good business sense: Costs for a personal injury claim run to hundreds of thousands of pounds, and liability insurance policies won't help unless it's possible to prove that you've done everything reasonable to clear the ice. Needless to say, this is even more of a risk with the increase in "no win, no fee" legal services!

Q: Are you seeing a salt shortage?

A: We're not currently seeing any pressure on salt stocks, but GRITIT doesn't have much cause for concern as we've negotiated guaranteed minimum stock levels with our supplier. What we have in stock means that we can handle three-four weeks flat out activity, which is a significant buffer.

That will let us handle a really bad winter, and also means that we have room to manoeuvre and time to order in stocks from overseas if needed. It's not very likely, but we do have contingency arrangements in place for this.

Q: Do you think local authorities are at risk?

A: Local authorities have been recommended to hold at least six days supply, so clearly don't have as much stock as a commercial gritting operation like ourselves. However, this should be enough to give them time to order additional supplies. The real challenge could be the short term supply challenges if many authorities engage in this type of short term buying all at once. Arguably they might be fine, but it could have a knock on effect on be businesses that have less buying power. They'll lose out if they haven't built relationships with suppliers, or are using contractors that haven't made sensible contingency plans.

Q: Will short-term buying push up the costs of grit?

A: Surprisingly, not. The market is mainly built around fixed pricing, and increased demand doesn't push up prices. In some ways this means there's no financial incentive for local authorities to buy in bulk or buy earlier. And as tax payers can we argue with this? It's probably preferable that councils don't invest huge amounts in buying and storing vast supplies - just as long as they can make the just in time buying strategy work!