Council forced to dig deep for winter cash; Weather: Concern at use of reserves to cover possible shortfall.
Byline: STEPHEN WALSH
Hard-up infrastructure chiefs could be forced to dip into their reserves for cash to prepare and respond to even a mild winter, they have claimed.
Aberdeenshire Council is regularly criticised for its response to severe weather during winter.
But the authority has said its meagre budget means it cannot possibly grit and clear every road across the vast region.
Now a new report reveals that even a mild winter would be extremely challenging for the council.
The current budget for "winter and other emergencies" for 2019-20 is PS4.52 million.
Infrastructure director Stephen Archer, the report's author, said this falls far short of what's needed for even a mild winter.
Mr Archer, whose report will be discussed on Thursday, has put the average council spend on winter maintenance as PS6.68m over the past decade, and PS5.35m since 2015-16.
His report adds: "Winter funding has increased by just over 3% for the past four-year period, whereas real cost increases have outstripped that.
"In essence, the winter budget has reduced in real terms. Based on historic data, current funding levels are some way short of adequately funding a relatively mild winter." On top of this, Mr Archer states that around PS1.5m is spent before the season even starts, on fixed expenditures like depot costs, vehicles and forecasting services.
This means that around PS3m remains from current budget provision for direct treatment costs such as fuel, salt and overtime.
Because of this, the council has had to use its reserves to ensure there will be adequate funding to cope with the demands of the coming winter, particularly if it proves to be a severe one.
The roads service estimates next winter could mean costs of more than PS6m, so now the authority has been forced to make an additional PS1.5m available from its coffers on top of its normal budget to ensure it is ready.
The authority has looked at a number of ways to help bolster its response, including enlisting the public as snow wardens and offering gritting shifts to staff from other departments.
"In essence, the winter budget has reduced in real terms"SEVERE: A snowplough on the streets of Alford in February 2017. Council chiefs now say even a mild winter could cause problems