Serious concerns were raised last night about the impact of slashing nearly £1million off the north-east’s road gritting budget.
In late November – with winter rapidly approaching – Aberdeenshire Council’s policy and resources committee agreed to scale back the winter budget from £5.2m to £4.2m.
This was largely done through a cut to treatment of “non-primary” roads.
Councillor Jim Ingram said: “I have concerns about roads, because, in my area, we have the highest instances of fatalities on the road and it really troubles me, because safety has to be a very high priority.”
Councillor Paul Johnston said: “Could the winter maintenance be managed better? Heavens, yes. But to get to the bottom of it is very difficult and to question how the money is spent is increasingly difficult.
“We need to save money – but nobody at political level is asking the right questions and getting the right details.”
The concerns arose after an anonymous council gritter told The Press and Journal that an unofficial memo had been passed to drivers stating that only “main streets” should be treated.
The driver said: “They’re bluffing it, saying they’ve got all these new gritters and all the salt, but they’re not putting us out.”
One local councillor, who did not wish to be named, confirmed that drivers had been ordered not to actively grit certain roads.
The councillor said: “It’s a worry for me, I’d have to say, because people’s lives are on the line when the roads become bad and good examples of that exist over the past few years, when there have been serious accidents on icy roads.”
However, former council leader, Cllr Jim Gifford, who sits on the policy committee, said the local authority is simply adhering to a policy that was already in place.
He said: “Before, we went above and beyond, but that was costing us money that we clearly don’t have any more. “There is a very clearly defined list of priority routes – everybody knows where they are and there is a process for dealing with them.”
Last night Aberdeenshire Council’s roads chief, Philip McKay, refuted the allegations.
He said: “Information on minor changes to the Winter Operational Plan, recently approved by councillors, and the steps to be taken to deliver a level of service for a ‘normal’ winter within the available budget of just of £4m, is publicly available on our website.”
He added the council has policies in place to allow staff to raise concerns “without fear of recourse”.