Monday, 11 January 2010

Scotland's Police Federation Critical of Private Contractors

Les Gray, the new chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said the standard of winter maintenance on the nation's busiest roads plunged after the job was tendered out to the private sector and should now be given back to councils.

In Scotland, councils used to grit all the roads, but responsibility for trunk roads - the country's major traffic arteries - was taken away in 1999 and is now contracted out by the government's Transport Scotland agency.

Gray said traffic officers wanted to see the front-line service brought back into the public sector. He said: "The service has not been the same since the councils lost their contracts to treat the trunk roads. Ultimately, of the roads are not getting gritted as frequently with as much salt as they used to be, then they are not as safe as they used to be.

"It used to be that you would see gritters on the go all day and all night. But now you could play a game of spot the gritter."

Councils list contracts to maintain such roads in 2000 under the Labour-LibDem Scottish Executive. They were replaced by private contractors, currently Amey, Scotland Transerv and Bear Scotland, which adhere to what officials insist are rigorous obligations.

Charlie Gordon, Labour's Scottish transport spokesman, said this winter's weather had exposed weaknesses in Scotland's ability to cope with extreme weather and described Gray's calls for renationalising maintenance "an important contribution to a debate that is only getting started".

Borders MSP (LibDem) Jeremy Purvis said: "We are at breaking point. We have been warning the government about the seriousness of the situation, but there is still no mechanism in place for central provision in Scotland."

Charlie Gordon and Jeremy Purvis are the very politicians who supported the privatisation of Scotland's main roads and yet criticise their own policy because the SNP are now in government.

I agree with Mr Gray. For twenty years I have lived near a main road which is the route to the local council roads depot. In winter the yellow flashing lights of gritters was constant, day and night. For the past 10 years the number has been drastically reduced and a couple a day is the norm now.

My council sold most of the roads depot land to Tesco and when I queried this, I was informed there was no longer any necessity to have so much ground because, with the privatisation, only a few vehicles and staff would be required. That certainly shows because before privatisation side roads would have been gritted far quicker than they have been this winter. Many people did clear their driveways and paths only to find that when a gritter did appear, after the festive holiday, it pushed the large mounds of hard-packed ice onto the pavements and over drive entrances.

Will the Scottish government now reconsider these private contracts and return the care of all our roads to the councils? It's seldom I praise council services, but my local council were superb at gritting and keeping all roads clear in winter weather. Of course that was once upon a time.


Strathturret said...

I would agree that Councils provided a good road clearing service in the 'good old days' when winters were much more severe. I personally find the service provided recently to be okay, although we have not had as much snow in Angus as other parts.

I'm not a great fan of public sector unions. So Police Federation would like more services brought back into public service? Is the Pope a Catholic?

I guess one of the great (unspoken) reasons for privatising services such as road gritting is to get it out of hands of Unite/Nalgo/whoever.

I suspect reversing this might just be a bit tricky. Remember this is worst winter since 1981/2 or 1963.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Public service, or private contractor? Which is the more efficient?

And does anybody care provided the long suffering public can be gulled into paying?

Renewables, or Nuclear or a more gradual phasing out of conventional power supply or sources? And what does the chosen method mean to the infrastructure of the national grid? And does that or anything else matter as long as the long suffering public can be gulled into paying?

All of these industries have been privatised which means they are responsible for meeting the public demand at a price the public deems equitable. It's the job of the government to see that both of these criteria are met.

Presently the policy of Westminster seems to be to subsidise every thing, decide on nothing and socialise the costs to guarantee the privatised profits. All paid for from the pockets of the LSP.

Seems to me the facts that're no dinging, is because of the wads of obfuscation that's packed in between the clapper and the bell.

The mandarins of commerce are pretty shrewd operators; perhaps the last couple of decades have shown that our civil and political mandarins simply haven't the wit to do battle and protect the public's interest.

subrosa said...

You're possibly right about the privatising removing the service from the unions. Strange a labour/libdem lot did it though Strathturret.

Aye I know it's the worst winter but it's certainly shown up the flaws with the separation of the service. I don't see what benefit it has been to the public purse splitting a service in this way.

Reversing it will cost money - everything does when it involves taxpayers money.

subrosa said...

I'm not sure if many care these days Crinkly. Maybe it's just my generation who want public services to be public and not private.

Excellent comment content though. Thanks. I agree our politicians are in no way a match for private business. That's such a shame because once the balance is lost then costs rise.

Apogee said...

Perhaps the problem is inadequate snow clearing equipment.Using modified trucks to fling a bit of grit and a light blade to push a light coating (up to 6 inches) of snow to the side of the road, is quickly overwhelmed by a 10 inch fall.
Could it be that the soft winters have given a false sense of security.
What do the Americans and Canadians use,something a little heavier duty,perhaps!


Strathturret said...

Yes I remember that P&K used to use snow blowers on Devils Elbow. Often mounted on theses MB Unimog vehicles.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Slightly off Rosa, but relevant to the the 'Public sector'debate.

An article in the Sunday Times discloses Birmingham City Council (Labour)paying £124,000 to an electrician in salary, bonuses and stand-bye payments. A further £51k paid to a dustcart driver - Binmen paid up to £46k - a traffic lights repairman £90k and a road painter(?) £57.5k.

Obviously there's gold in them thar council jobs?

However the Times in its own inimitable biased fashion has included a sidebar headed - Scots most affluent - It quotes the Rowntree Foundation stating the north-south divide has reversed and Scotland is now more affluent than England?

It concludes with the old mantra that this adds fuel to the demands for the preferential Treasury funding should be cut by 20%.

Standard stupid for the Times to juxtapose these two articles. Perhaps the raising of Scoland's so called affluence is down to the fact that none of its councils pay £124,000 in salary to their electricians, dustmen etc.

subrosa said...

Hi Apogee. I know that in this area the number of gritters has been seriously reduced. Before privatisation blowers and gritters, along with separate ploughs were very evident.

I suspect much of this hardware was sold to the new private companies because it would have been excess stock for councils, but that's only an assumption of course.

What I do know is that little or any of it is housed in my local depot now.

subrosa said...

Strathturret, I don't think the A93 comes under P & K anymore but I know blowers are still used on that stretch of road (although the Elbow thankfully is just an overgrown piece of tarmac these days).

I remember farmers, with ploughs stuck onto tractors, driving up and down that road to ensure the good folks of Braemar had a lifeline south and vice versa. It's still no blocked for long if you notice, but I think the ski company has something to do with that.

This weekend the skiing was better at Glenshee than it was in France and Austria I believe.

subrosa said...

Crinkly are you telepathic? I thought exactly the same about the two articles. Now you've motivated me to think about a post for tomorrow!

Quiet_Man said...

Odd really, because currently the government is requisitioning salt supplies without compensation from local councils who made provisions (Mostly Tory) to councils that haven't made provision (Mostly Labour) Seems the Labour councils were convinced that snow was a thing of the past and that climate change advisor's were the new gritters.
It really makes no difference who grits the roads, just that they do it well. I'm sure most Scottish residents who actually pay council tax will welcome the £1000+ council tax bill if they switch over to having the gritting done by the councils again.

banned said...

Likewise I don't generally approve of my local council but as I blogged almost a week ago:
"By 10am yesterday all the major city roads were clear as were many minor ones. By lunchtime they had gangs of up to 20 workmen shovelling and brushing 2-3 inches of snow off the High St. pavements and 3 other major shopping streets. Hopefully after then gritting the pavements those who venture out this morning will not be faced with the black ice that they had in late December."

Their action has been vindicated in that, despite a week of sub-zero temperatures, all the major retail areas have remained ice-free; in fact it has been possible to walk safely from the city centre almost to the motorway services on pavements on that side of the road that was cleared.

subrosa said...

I read that at your place banned. Perth was a disgrace over the holiday. The pavements were treacherous but once they returned on the 5th they did get it sorted out swiftly.

Think there were hundreds of complaints because shops don't do their 'own' bit these days. Mind you, in these pedestrian ways what is their own bit.

All is fine now though in the town centre. Do hope they pay some attention to the residential areas now. Lots of hard packed ice still there but it's been raining the past few hours so slowly it may melt away. Will take a few days though.

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