Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Shut Up and Let It Snow!

Yet more predictable chaos as once again the nation is shocked by the advent of winter and another occasion when 'once in a century' weather has ravaged the country? And what's more the term is used with absolutely no sense of irony.

Many have blogged and tweeted about the official version of events and quite honestly I'm not sure that I agree with it either. I suspect that some serious spin is being applied. We are to believe that it took until 5pm for someone to decide that there might be a teensy-weeny problem out on the roads.

Well hello! At 1pm it was clear that Mount Pleasant had not been gritted and was starting to freeze with traffic hardly moving. By 2pm there was complete gridlock in the town centre. The official story sees people sat around twiddling their thumbs until an "OMIGOSH have you seen out of the window?" moment at 5pm. Three hours of ignorant bliss? Maybe there was really nothing being done. I cannot remember a single official bulletin on local radio during that period or until the press release went out at 8pm.

I was similarly not impressed by the Council's failure to keep the buses moving. That should have been the number one priority. One of my constituents is 82 and left with no way home and a hill to climb... with shopping. In terms of reducing the congestion in an emergency, cars can be left in car parks overnight, if there is a guaranteed route home by a prioritised bus service. The council announced free parking far too late for anyone to know about it. Yet what if that had been backed up by a guarantee that all bus routes were fully gritted and operational? That is emergency planning.

When it comes to sticking up for residents, Lib Dems were all hands to the pumps, diseminating council information, pointing out where the problems were and trying to keep people up to date. Even so, we also believe that you should not make the same mistake twice and immediately called for an urgent review when it was clear that things had gone Pete Tong.

What was the Tory reaction? Since they can't help themselves - it was to spread lies. Daisy Benson calling for an urgent review apparently meant that the Lib Dems were demanding unlimited budgets for gritting. Putting words in your opponents' mouths and reacting to the words you yourself have put there is the result of taking Harry Enfield shows far too seriously:

"Now if that Daisy Benson come in here and said that she'd tear down the premature baby wing of the Royal Berks to pay for gritting across town, I'd say no Benson, you may be the hardest working councillor and undoubted darling of the local Twitter scene but you are not murdering babies to ensure that people have a safe journey home."

The only slight problem with that tactic us that she said nothing of the sort. Tories reacting to what they hope we'd say rather than we actually say is all they can manage. They really are going to have to invest in a new campaign manual.

On the other hand it is easy to be critical, so perhaps I'm being unfair and should consider how the Tory vision may be superior in some way to the Lib Dem response. Well, as is usual for a Tory promise it is, er, nothing apart from congratulating officers for their hard work. However, we know from their own mouths that the twin pillars of the next Tory budget are capped departmental budgets and cuts across the board. Out of grit? Tough luck, we have a budget to stuck to. The fuss and vitriol they kicked up when we suggested that yes, we would consider an overspend if it was for protecting children makes me think that the collapse of the town's transport infrastructure would be a mere bagatelle. I would recommend you all start packing sleeping backs and a thermos flask of soup before venturing in to a Tory run Reading in winter.

I was looking forward to the Labour reaction but they seem to have all disappeared leaving the Chief Executieve to take the flack which, I have to say, he has coped with extremely well. Doesn't mean of course that a self-critical look at what happened shouldn't be done as soon as possible. Delaying any review could be dumb. This could all be happening again in only a few more short weeks - we've only just started winter.

One of the main things that I'll be asking for is that the council puts in place more facilities to help residents help themselves. If the top of each hilly road had a salt and grit bunker, half the side roads would be clear by now with no expense to the council other than the raw materials. Yet have you seen the grit bin distribution? All nicely clumped in Tilehurst and Caversham. Equally hilly, Katesgrove has one, conveniently situated at the bottom of a hill! My road, Highgrove Street, resembles a ski jump for the winter games. We don't expect the council to grit all the roads, but it is not unreasonable for them to let residents help themselves and waving a bag of Saxa at the ice isn't quite enough.

I see a busy few days ahead for us, so whilst were working, why not have a look at our snow video?


howard thomas said...

Does RBC have any sort of plan for snow and the treatment of roads ?
Remember the chaos of February of this year when we had a couple of inches of snow overnight, when the snow actually stopped falling by 1 o'clock. Absolutely nothing happened with regard to sorting out the problem , and then in the morning (surprise, surprise) complete chaos!
I note the comments of certain bods in the council , that "we must learn from this". Very unlikely ,I think, as it is my observation that RBC has severe learning difficulties!
With regard to this latest mess, don't forget that we had snow days earlier, and nothing was done with regard to treating the roads or pavements........if it had been then perhaps the situation would not have been as bad as it turned out! All this 30 minutes warning is b******s, there were several days to get on and treat the roads which were already in a 'not too good' condition.
This amount of snow in such a short space of time was always going to cause problems, but they need not have been anywhere near as a bad as they turned out to be.
If RBC had put in as much effort as possible and failed, then at least it can be argued that failure was not as a result of inaction, but when RBC fail to act at all, then they can only be described as incompetant.

Was said...

Whilst I don't doubt the hard working staff's efforts, there is the smack of mutual back slapping by the Tories and Labour about how well the December events were handled with the inevitable result. Shock! Snow twice in a month? Never happens here!

Labour are presumably hoping that they can smear the blame on everyone else (expect the setting up of a review to report after the election) and the Tories agreeing to it worried that if they do end up as the largest party that they need to get their excuses in early for the obvious question of why a slashed budget won't make things worse. Remember, the Tories promise of "Cuts Across The Board" and "Budget Caps" at the last full council? Unless they were lying of course.

If I'd presided over the complete grinding to a halt of the "city", I might be a little more contrite and not quite so self-congratulary.

howard thomas said...

It is quite possible that the tories may take control of RBC at the next election, but not, I think, desirable!
If they do they will have to do much better with the budget discussion than sitting there saying 'na, don't want no rise' , but not wishing to give a clue about how that could be.
Achieving power in Reading may well frighten the pants off them........Oh we won, now we have to have some policies!Anyone got any ideas?