Let’s talk about snow!
As the hot, summer sun beat down over the weekend just gone, with a cool beer in my hand and covered in factor 50, I began to think about snow.
That’s right, snow. Despite basking in record breaking temperatures and ending up with sunburnt feet, it was all I could do not to keep remembering that it was October, despite appearances, and if predictions are to be believed it is only a matter of weeks before our ice creams stop melting and the snow starts to fall.
‘Nonsense,’ I hear you cry, ‘tis months away and we have plenty of time to prepare. In fact, as it’s so warm now it’ll probably be a mild winter anyway and the gritters can stay in the garage.’ It is then that I remind you of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.
Essentially, it boils down to the five ‘Ps’: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Now is exactly the time for councils up and down the country to be doling out the grit, which is precisely what some have begun to do. Plymouth and Sutton amongst others have already got on the case by preparing the snow ploughs and offering free grit to residents, with more hopefully following soon with plans of their own. But is it worth doing yet?
Well, yes. A huge part of confusion in the past was the degree of confidence local people had in their Council that they were prepared, and the feeling that they were not in control. By preparing publicly and early, Councils will have a better chance of ensuring that residents knw that they are doing so, thus addressing those otherwise negative perception issues.
And it’s beyond the real world that preparation also needs to begin in earnest; the excellent social media response to last years cold snap needs to be planned and assigned to officers, with support services and back up staff in place to pounce as soon as the first flakes descend.
Things such as the online maps of salt and grit bins produced, links to advice from Direct.gov shared through twitter and 4x4s being put on high alertfor meals on wheels delivery: all of this and more can be learnt from and replicated up and down the land.
As Eric Pickles prepares to invest £250m in weekly bin collections – whether they are wanted or not – local authorities should by now be well on their way to preparing for allocating their other meagre resources to be stretched and pulled to deal with the expected weather. If done properly, this exercise will generate insight and new ways of working and collaborating even if the weather does stay fair and mild.
It’s this element of forward planning that too often fails local government. It’s not that the intent to prepare isn’t there, more that we spend so long firefighting and staying afloat that there is little time to prepare for other, less regular situations. Often with weather related issues there is also little warning as to the severity, and the snow that engulfed the nation in times gone past has often come as a great shock and surprise.
It’s at times like this that residents forget about every other good thing their council does on every other day of the year; all of a sudden, if every single side road and alleyway isn’t gritted the council is deemed to be not doing well enough. It’s not enough that they are following pre-agreed plans and starting with the main arterial routes to keep the majority of traffic flowing, people usually don’t know about or understand this, nor appreciate the sheer scale of the challenges local authorities face during a cold snap.
In the glow of a late summer evening, residents should be sitting down to peruse their town hall Pravda or accessing their official council twitter feed and beginning to read messages setting out what the plans are. Forewarned is forearmed, and simply telling residents the plans being prepared shows that the council is preparing for the worst.
To paraphrase a popular term: time to share grit while the sun shines.
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