Monday, 27 December 2010
No 'Lessons Learned' Here
I woke this morning to find another couple of inches of snow has fallen during the night. It was expected and forecast, although the BBC Met Office forecasts these days seem to cover every eventuality over the whole of the UK and any accurate local forecasting is usually well off the mark. The weather presenters vaguely wave their hand at their map and announce 'the east', 'the north' or 'the west' when referring to Scotland with 'the central belt' having entered their vocabulary in the past few weeks. Nothing to do with the resignation of Stewart Stevenson of course.
What does trouble me though this morning is a case of deja vù. Last year at this time we had snow and the roads and pavements were left untreated until council staff returned to work on the 5 January. Many older people were housebound because they couldn't negotiate the pavements in town and were afraid they would fall. It's common knowledge that fractures in the elderly shorten their lives and I admit to being very wary about walking in snow or ice.
Last week, when I was discussing the state of the town's pavements with a local shopkeeper, I was told that after the heavy fall last Sunday council workers were contacted and asked to come into work to help shift it before the roads became busy on the Monday morning. All refused because they were exhausted having done hours of overtime in the previous two weeks.
Fair enough. If someone's exhausted they won't do a good job and they won't do themselves much good either. But why do the council not have a bigger pool of capable people to call upon when necessary? The answer is simple. My local council has reduced snow clearing equipment from 16 machines to 2 over the past 12 years. You don't need extra manpower if you don't have the tools for them to do the job.
Today's snow may thaw a little but, as the temperature is due to dip again within 48 hours, the slush will turn to ice. Nothing will be cleared in town until council workers return on 5 January. Only 8 days to wait. The same as last year. No 'lessons learned' here in the past 12 months.
Since the day in 1999 when Scotland's roads were divided into major and minor, with the major trunk roads maintenance being privatised, the standard of winter maintenance has plunged.
In the long winter of 1963 I lived in the borders. Twice a week I attended the Royal High in Edinburgh for night classes. Not once was the bus service cancelled. I vividly remember leaving Edinburgh one night, at the usual time of 9.40pm, only for the bus to make a lengthy stop on the outskirts. (The majority of us on the bus were young folk who were studying a range of subjects which couldn't be accessed locally.) When someone asked the driver why we were held up, his reply was he was waiting for the snowplough, as, hadn't we noticed, there had been heavy snow falling all evening. A prior arrangement had been made with local transport services for a plough to lead the bus the whole of its 40+ mile trip to Galashiels. The plough duly arrived and off we set on this exciting, yet scary, adventure. The snow was as high as the bus windows, yet the driver pressed on, delivering several cold and weary teenagers safely to their destination.
We were late arriving, perhaps an hour or so late, but it didn't matter in the least. Worried parents had telephoned the bus operator and were told the situation - at around 11pm.
Would any bus operator answer a telephone at 11pm these days? I hae ma doots. Would a bus operator have an arrangement with local snow clearing services? Mair doots. In these days of health and safety, would a bus run at all in such conditions? No. Back in the 60s there was a 'roads network' consisting of roadmen dotted all around the country who kept each other informed of local situations, kept the local council informed and knew every farmer who owned a tractor. The system worked well.
Sometimes progress leaves much common sense and genuine commitment in its wake.