Snow trouble is c-old news


No app, but there is a digital map...

What a difference a few years makes. It seems so long and so little time ago that we wrote a piece after the cold snap at the end of 2010, when parts of the country had ground to a halt after an inch or two of snow fell and local government appeared to sit back and rest on its collective laurels.

At the time we called for councils up and down the country to take a little time to think about what had happened and perhaps review the things that went right and wrong and see if there were steps which could be taken to deal with it better next time round. We’d like to think therefore that we are entirely to be given credit for what’s happened recently (although in reality we accept that perhaps others had the same idea as us).

And what may these ideas have been? Well, fast forward just under fourteen months and Britain once again (shock horror) finds itself under snow in winter, and do you know what? It looks like town hall types took our advice and had a good think about what happened. Plans were drawn up, grit ordered and stockpiled and comms plans prepared, resulting in a far, far improved response in 2012.
The media, local or national, are often first in the queue to bash local government when things don’t go to plan. However, this time around I think on the whole things have gone very well. A combination of better preparation and better communication have borne fruit, with not only roads gritted but people more aware of this fact via judicial use of a range of tools, including digital. This has managed expectations better than ever before; I’ve spoken to people about gritted roads and actually heard them mention the words ‘arterial route’ without prompting.

I don’t think we’ve got it perfectly right, but credit where credit is due; collectively we’ve done good. A combination of back office planning and frontline hard work have resulted in main roads being safer than ever and residents more able to enjoy the weather rather than fretting about getting about their business.

And it’s not only the practical work of councils which is contributing to the better snow reactions – innovations such as the simple yet brilliant #uksnow map are showing that it’s not only statutory bodies who can work for the greater good. Whether it’s digital magic like this or simply neighbours shovelling snow off the pavements and spreading their own grit over side streets, this year feels just a little different than normal.

Of course, perhaps it’s just me, perhaps it’s localised to my own physical neighbourhood and the digital communities I am aware of, but until I’m made aware of somewhere local government has slipped up seriously and should have done far better I’m going to say thank you to all of those involved and look forward to further evolution in years to come.

And what might these evolution’s be?  What can we learn from how we have prepared and handled things this time around?  Well, first and foremost is to plan early and stick with your plans. This year many councils prepared veritable mountains of grit and stored it in piles towards the end of last year, and received at first light hearted ribbing for this before some began questioning whether this was a waste of money we cannot afford in these tough times.  Only now has this been proven to be the right decision; with global warming creating ever wilder and more extreme weather patterns this will only continue, so this year may very well become the norm in terms of preparation required.

And the fusion of technology and real time updating has also borne fruit.  In addition to the aforementioned #uksnow map, many councils have enabled their gritting teams to contact the public directly through tools such as Twitter, giving live updates as to which roads are gritted and general advice on road conditions.  Comms teams and others have also worked hard to put more and more information not just in the public domain through passive website updates but direct to people through interactive apps and tools, enabling them to feed information to them as well and help build a picture of what is going on.

Finally, many moons ago we found ourselves outraged at the attitudes of some of our colleagues, who took the excuse of a light dusting of snow to take days off on the flimsy excuse of not being able to get into the office.  While this isn’t universal yet, increasingly staff are ever more able to work remotely via remote access keys, work equipment such as mobile phones and laptops, as well as access to e-mail tools online.  Some councils have even gone further and taken the step of moving to the cloud wholesale, with a rapidly increasing number also having technology such as Yammer networks to act as remote intranets and support systems.  All this means that staff will still be able to work regardless of the difficulties or challenges their commute may throw at them; although we can’t guarantee that lunchtimes won’t also involve a quick sledging trip to the park.

So, overall there is much to pat ourselves on the back for, and much to show how far we’ve come.  And brilliantly there are also a number of things we can start doing to make the big snow of 2013 even smoother to manage and cope with.  Let’s get the next week or o out of the way, let things thaw out a bit and then go back to our drawing boards to prepare our snow plan version 3.0.

After all, there’s snow time like the present to prepare for the future.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at:welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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2 Comments on “Snow trouble is c-old news”

  1. Judy Aldred Says:

    The best thing about this whole area is the new ‘gritting forecast’ on twitter. I’m not sure how widespread it is across the UK but my local council tweets on the colder days and announces when and where it will be gritting. Not only does it warn you of when the trucks will be out it helps us locals know when to grit our driveways. In Leeds the gritting forecast has become almost as iconic as the shipping forecast!

  2. H Peltan Says:

    Here in Oxfordshire the recent snowfall was handled pretty well, there is more snow coming tomorrow so fingers crossed, one has to wonder vwhat would happen if we had t5he kind of snow that they get in the US?


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