Tuesday, 5 January 2010

SNP councillor must be very, very angry at SNP council

The debate over the response of local authorities to the freezing weather conditions continues to hot up, with SNP MSP Tricia Marwick calling for a "full inquiry" into how Fife Council got into the position of only having a few hours of grit supplies left before being bailed out by emergency supplies organised by the Scottish Government. Ms Marwick says, "Statements on behalf of the council that other authorities were in a similar position to Fife are simply not true," which is a commendable stance in view of the fact that the council is SNP (and Lib Dem) controlled.

Indeed, Douglas Chapman, the council's SNP education chairman, is also asking questions, and the Courier quotes him as saying yesterday: "I will be very, very angry if staff and pupils cannot get to any of our schools tomorrow because main routes have not been adequately gritted."

However, another news article in today's Courier reveals that 21 schools in Fife are to remain closed today due to the severe weather and related problems, some apparently on police advice. And it's also reported that the parent of a pupil at a Cupar primary will be keeping his nine-year-old away from the school in protest at the dangerous state of the playground and surrounding areas, where he says even his dog fell.

Thus happy days for the pupils, but presumably Councillor Chapman will be very, very angry this morning unless, of course, he claims that the schools are closed because of conditions other than the lack of gritting on the main routes which he specifically mentions in his statement.

Meanwhile, the Times accuses John Swinney of "rubbing salt into the public's wounds" by referring to "perfectly adequate walking conditions" in "a number of communities", while Magnus Linklater slams the "staggering combination of arrogance, complacency and sheer indifference" from council bureaucrats and says: "Not even the worst weather in 30 years is allowed to interfere with the inalienable right of councillors and officials to take their statutory break."

Thus it's interesting how the cold weather has become something of a political hot potato, and having slipped and fallen myself - not to mention several close shaves - and driven in some of the appalling conditions, the issue clearly provides an added personal resonance. (In Dundee the Evening Telegraph reports that its news editor - who had been processing stories on the crowded A&E department at Ninwells Hospital - slipped on ice and broke her arm.)

Having driven for 25 years I think the worse driving conditions I've seen were in north east Fife on Saturday afternoon, following snow showers from Dundee into the adjoining corner of Fife. In truth there wasn't too much snow, but it seemed to be combined with black ice to provide particularly slippery conditions, when even driving along a straight bit of road at slow speed was a tricky business.

The traffic came to a complete halt at around St Michael's, a mile or so north of Leuchars on the main Dundee to St Andrews road. A couple I spoke to later said they eventually abandoned their car and walked a mile or two to Leuchars station to catch the train. I got caught up in the jam at St Michael's, and decided to try taking the main road to Cupar as a detour. However, just short of Balmullo the traffic came to a standstill, and when it started moving again the car two in front of me couldn't get going on the innocuous-looking incline on the approach to the village. After several minutes slipping and sliding the driver eventually turned round and headed back. The next car then spent several minutes slithering around before also turning tail. By virtue of my superior driving skills, er, I mean, by dint of good luck I managed to negotiate the slight hill, but who knows how the queuing cars behind me got on. However, I did hear on local radio later that many people had been out pushing cars and falling on their backsides and suchlike, and I think it took a couple of hours to get everyone moving again, despite the limited amount of snow.

Of course, councils cannot be expected to cope with every eventuality, and nothing in life is perfect, but the annoying thing is the usual self-evident air of complacency and concomitant lack of candour from bureaucrats and politicians, with the usual party points scoring arising as a corollary.

Thus in response to extraordinary weather conditions we have very ordinary politics. Quelle surprise!

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