Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Snow Summit

A review into the council response to the dramatic winter weather experience in recent weeks has been published.

LibDem Cllr Daisy Benson makes a statement of the seriousness with which it is being treated, saying how she has been impressed by the manner and scope of the compilation of the report:
"I welcome the openness of officers and willingness to ensure any problems and issues are identified so more effective policies can be implemented in future."
She praises the dedication of council staff and notes how the same events have been calculated to cost other councils as much as £5m and expresses concern at how this will increase pressure on an already stretched budget for the year ahead.

The parliamentary candidate for Reading West lists a range of areas which she identified as areas requiring review, including:
  • Weather forecasting receipt and dissmenation of information
  • Emergency planning processes (including staffing of emergency control centre)
  • Gritting - supplies, stores, deployment and priorities - to include footways and provision of grit bins and grit stocks
  • Communication - including the Council's policies, role and capacity to get informaton about adverse weather conditions out to the public
  • Closer liaison between RTL (Reading Buses) and the emergency operations and co-ordination functions to ensure priority and ‘high community value’ routes remain operable
  • A recognised and accessible debriefing, information and update reports, including a "lessons learnt" process.
She also notes a nationwide 'Snow Summit' will bring together councils from across the country to share experiences and ideas on how to better prepare for future forecasts and concludes that the overriding issue is one of communication.

She advocates greater engagement with social media by the authorities as the fastest means of providing accurate real-time information to the public.

Meanwhile Labour's Cllr John Ennis provides an account of the report.

He accepts the widespread public criticism of the handling of the mini-crisis, but recognises the efforts made by services to keep running normally under conditions of 'exceptional adverse weather'.

He notes that there are lessons to be learnt with regard to communication with the public and picks out that the council has prioritises a review of both the role and coordination of procedures, however he excuses Reading's authorities by explaining how the blizzard which hit during rush-hour on Monday 21st December (report, reaction, more reaction, round-up) also affected neighbouring authorities across the region - so no-one was immune.

Cllr Ennis suggests Reading wasn't appreciably worse prepared, nor any worse at dealing with the problems. He also makes an inspecific attack on people who 'stole' grit, which to his mind may explain why some grit bins were empty.

However both Cllr Benson and Cllr Ennis express the hope that outside interests will not play a part in the review as the election period cranks into full gear.

Cllr Benson states:
"it is vital that local residents get the opportunity to hold the Council and it's performance to account in an open and transparent way."
But Cllr Ennis gives an implicit warning about how the scoring of cheap political points may influence future policy for the worse. He says:
"I hope the discussion does not become too party political or "council bashing" as contrary to the perception of some, it did snow on Tory councils as well."

Oranjepan says:
It is noticable that local Tories have not been more forthcoming on precisely how they're engaging with the formal processes of the council - either in the press or online. Some might say they'd be more vocal if they felt it suited them to, but I couldn't possibly comment.


Update: Alistair Coleman invites us to look at the politics of weather from his perspective...

Green party campaigner Adrian Windisch spent his Saturday evening writing a blog post to summarise the events which unfolded together with a few opinions from the local political blogosphere.

Fellow Green Party member Rob White offers an alternative appoach by giving his support to Cllr Benson.

Mr London Street has a slightly different way of looking at the world - he says English snow is 'more deadly, more dangerous and more disruptive' than any other, "the swine flu of snow".


Read the whole of Reading Borough Council's official report into the 'Impacts of Severe Weather Conditions'.


More on Weather-related issues


  1. This Street-Mugger council have squandered our money over the years on useless road schemes designe to keep maximum funding from the main government. Humps, chicanes and other street calming methods that simply are ineffective and unnecessary have made it 'impossible' for snow ploughs to even attempt most routes around our borough.

    We've copied and led other councils down this futile route on the back of the "Global Warming" card which itself is a propaganda nonsense devised to strip us of every last penny we 'might' have had left over after all the other stealth taxes had stripped us bare.

    It's time common sense came to bare on British politics, (and I don't mean our local loony who calls himself 'The Common-sense party :-)

    Just a thought. Pete.

  2. Hi Pete, you got most of that right until you got to the part about the local 'loony' where you somehow joined the ranks of the Raving Monsters.
    The Common sense party was set up purely to reflect public opinion and we get a great deal of support and sympathy from many people who are entirely fed up with the way that our country (and town) is run.
    If you consider that to be a problem , then pick a subject and lets hear how your take might differ from the way that the Common sense party sees it.Beware as we have public opinion on our side.
    We await your comments with interest!

    Howard Thomas

  3. Hi guys,
    thanks for the comments.

    I'm always a bit suspicious when anyone claims public opinion is on their side as we are all members of the public and it's therefore not a matter of whether there is public support for any particular opinion rather a question of exactly how much. Therefore it's vital that we can find an accurate measure.
    Elections are the primary means of doing this, so I'd encourage you to stand as a candidate. I also try to help do this in blogland by compiling a mothly chart of local rankings, but it's unfortunate the platform for your blog prevents inclusion in the chart.

    I think it is a valid point that snow ploughs can't go down roads where traffic calming measures are in place, but at the same time they also can't get along roads where the gradient is too steep. It must also be asked in how far the amount of snow we expect each year justifies the outlay on acquisition and maintenance of snow ploughs.
    So ultimately it's a balancing act where each type of solution is only a part of the bigger picture and we should be mindful that no options are excluded.


    Anyway, I really enjoy a good debate where we are all confronted by a range of different views as this is the best way to bring new information to the table, so let's try to keep it constructive.

  4. Orangepan.....By public opinion, perhaps I should quantify that by saying that where the majority of the public want a certain policy then our policy will reflect that. This is a principle that is entirely lost on the major parties who wish only to dictate to the public. That is why we get such positive reactions from the public.......they are fed up with being kept in the dark and fed bull. A typical comment as I'm sure you know is "they are all the same", and within reason they are right.
    Public opinion would see immigration slowed down drastically or stopped,would see us either leave the EU or withdraw to the original Common Market trading block position and would see crime dealt with properly by punishing repeat offenders severely in prisons that don't resemble hotels!
    Would either you or Pete, or anyone else like to tell me that this is not the case?

    With regard to the council's gritting , the response was far too little and far too late. When snow is forecast the roads need to be gritted before it lands, and then as soon as the roads are beginning to be covered the ploughs need to be out there working. When we had the heavy fall just after Christmas , I just happened to need to be out around the major roads in Reading and there was no sign of any action at all. The first one I saw was on Caversham bridge at about midnight........I had been on the IDR 2 or 3 times without witnessing any gritter or plough , and yet at that time there was 4 to 5" of compacted snow on the roads. A response like that is simply not good enough ! If the ploughs had been out there from the start and worked through the night all the major roads and hills would have been fine in the morning and then it would have been time to start dealing with some of the 'not so major ' roads.
    It is said that 'lessons will be learned' Will they ,I wonder?

  5. One other point is that humps should not present too big a problem to a plough that is fitted with the right sort of blade, the right sort is one that rests down under its own weight and is kept just off the road by small wheels just behind the blade. I am told that the new ploughs have a blade that is driven/held down hydraulically.......if (and I say if) this is the case then they would not be able to go over humps.

  6. Howard,
    exactly how do you quantify the state of public opinion?

    Do you systematically go down every street in the town spending several hours talking to everyone on every subject, or do you use some sort of filtering system? If so, what?

    Or do you rely on a personal selection of anecdotes, which are self-serving, self-reinforcing and overwhelmingly negative?

    All parties reflect the views of their members, and this means they are both not the same and open to influence in more-or-less transparent manners.

    Please could you explain how your party functions?


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