Jan 7 2010 by Alistair Watson, West Lothian Courier
A WAR of words has broken out between politicians regarding West Lothian Council’s response to the wintry weather conditions.
Labour councillors claim the people of West Lothian have lost confidence in the SNP over “their mishandling of the council’s winter maintenance”.
They accused the council’s SNP-led administration of inaction and “fiddling while West Lothian freezes” over the current adverse weather conditions affecting the area.
But council leader Peter Johnston hit back and accused the Labour politicians of misleading the public.
Councillor Graeme Morrice said the current winter maintenance plan — which he claims doesn’t allow gritters to go into residential areas outside normal working hours or at weekends — should be suspended to help clear these areas.
Labour leader Graeme Morrice said: “We accept this is an unusually bad spell of weather and have nothing but praise for our hard working and dedicated staff who are involved in winter maintenance duties.
“However, we deplore the complacency of the SNP in refusing to respond to our requests — made before and since Christmas — for the current winter maintenance policy to be suspended so that the council gritters can attend housing estates to treat the roads and footpaths during evenings and at weekends, if they can’t be tackled during the normal working day.
“This is a unique set of circumstances and the council should apply maximum flexibility and respond to the hundreds of calls for assistance we’ve had throughout the county over the past few weeks.
“The SNP are simply fiddling while West Lothian freezes and this is completely intolerable and unacceptable.”
However, Councillor Johnston says the policy is already designed to be flexible and doesn’t need to be abandoned.
He said: “This is the worst kind of politicking by elected members who have been fully briefed by council officers and know to the last detail what the council have been doing.
“This policy has remained unchanged in a decade and within it the roads manager has been given absolute discretion to bring in more resources and be as flexible as he can be as to where he directs these resources.
“We don’t need to abandon the policy to get this flexibility as the policy provides for it.
“The Labour Party claims are untrue and I think it is regrettable that at a time when council staff are doing an excellent job, with some of them working 12 and 18-hour shifts repeatedly to keep the majority of West Lothian safe and clear, they have resorted to the worst sort of base politicking.
“Instead of getting behind the staff these councillors have been misleading people and making statements that are unsubstantiated and untrue.”
The council leader added: “There are no cash limits on the road gritting. The workers have maintained the major routes to an excellent standard. That is our statutory responsibility.
“It would be gross negligence and nonsensical for us to abandon the major routes and go into housing estates instead.
“The major routes are needed for food deliveries, getting people to work and our emergency services. To say we should suspend our policy and abandon our statutory duties is absolute nonsense.
“It is something no sensible council the length and breadth of the country has even considered.”
And the council leader said the situation should improve in the next few days after the local authority brought in additional workers from the private sector.
“We are using every available resource and council staff have voluntarily given up their holidays to work in this difficult period,” Councillor Johnston added.
“We have brought in private sector workers where they have been available and additional resources have been brought in to target residential areas.
“Hopefully, people will see a significant difference in housing estates in the next 24 or 48 hours, but this is weather dependant.”