Highland Council chiefs have delivered the message their latest financial crisis will not disrupt their priority of protecting the public through extensive road gritting this winter.
Budget chairman, Bill Fernie, made the pledge despite being tasked with plugging an envisaged shortfall of “between £40million and £70million” over the next three years.
Councillor Fernie said: “The council leader (Margaret Davidson) has said the one thing we must do is try and keep the budget as high as we can on winter grit and road maintenance because of the issues that are involved.
“That gives me and my budget team a degree of difficulty because we then have to redistribute what’s left around the rest of the council and we have a number of constraints, the biggest one being the Scottish Government has ring-fenced teacher numbers.
“We can’t touch that and it’s a very large part (half) of our budget.
“Winter maintenance is so important for saving lives and making sure people are safe on the roads that we will try our best to keep it as high level as we possibly can for next year.”
In April, the council’s community services (transport) committee noted: “10% of the gritter fleet could start one hour earlier at 5am to aid treatment of roads in advance of commuter traffic, as well as aiding service bus/school transport routes in urban areas, on a discretionary basis, based on hazards such as heavy ice or snow.”
This equates to around one route in every local committee area.
However, the council has emphasised it cannot ensure that every road or pavement will be free of ice or snow at all times.
Caithness civic leader Gillian Coghill, a member of the minority independent-led administration, has urged the council to press the Scottish Government for additional funding for winter roads maintenance.
The council uses the services of the forecaster Meteo Group Ltd which provides daily and five-day weather forecasts.
Separate assessments are received for seven climatic zones across Highland to help local decision making.
The daily forecast is received at noon and covers the following 24 hours. It is used to plan treatment for the evening and following morning.