Page last updated at 01:29 GMT, Thursday, 14 January 2010

Councils ignored cheap road salt offer

Snow-bound car in north Pembrokeshire
Councils are advised to have six days supplies of salt

Up to 30 councils spurned an offer last year of thousands of tonnes of de-icing salt at a reduced price, to use on the roads this winter, the BBC has learned.

British Salt Director David Stephen made the offer from its 60,000 tonnes stockpile in April but had no takers.

The Local Government Association said every council had six days' supply - the officially minimum recommended level of salt needed to meet demand.

However the LGA's David Sparks said the six-day advice may have to be revised.

Earlier this week Transport Secretary Lord Adonis warned that councils might have to ration their supplies of salt to cope with continuing cold weather.

'No response'

But BBC Radio 4's The Report has been told that 20 to 30 councils were offered thousands of tonnes of salt twice last year to prepare for any winter problems.

BBC Radio 4, Thursday 14 January at 2000 GMT
Or download the podcast.

"Following last year's winter, we knew we had 60,000 tonnes available and felt we should enter the de-icing sector permanently," said Mr Stephen.

"We went to the markets and offered them this same product at a discounted price," he added.

None of the councils contacted responded.

He said British Salt is nearing the stage where orders will exceed supply at its factory in Middlewich, Cheshire.

"Once the panic has died down we will go back to the councils and see if we can secure a supply position with them," Mr Stephen added.

Saving cash

With the government looking to buy salt from abroad, Mr Stephen said councils could have stocked up last year and saved money if they had ordered earlier.

David Sparks, a member of the transport board of the Local Government Association said he was not aware of British Salt's offer.

But he added: "That wouldn't have altered anything because everybody did have six days of salt which was the consensus view of the level of salt that was adequate to meet the demands that we would face.

"The consensus may have been wrong but I don't know that, I would much prefer us to systematically review it so we can come to a figure in the light of our experience that is more able to deal with the problems we face.

"If it is decided that we need to plan for [and] spend more money for rarer events then so be it, but it needs to be something that's studied systematically."

Supply advice

Mr Sparks added: "The problem we face is that we do not know what the weather is going to be like. We must first ensure there is an adequate supply of salt and that is defined and there are adequate methods of increasing that supply should the need arise.

"Equally we need to look at whether there are alternative methods of dealing with the problems of extremely cold weather on the roads network."

Transport minister Sadiq Khan admitted that the six day advice may be altered in the future.

"Once we get out of these freezing conditions we'll need to look at the lessons and one is asking if the national resilience programme is adequate if there may be more frequent periods of bad weather," he said.

The Report is on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday, 14 January at 2000 GMT. You can also listen via the BBC iPlayer after broadcast or download the podcast.

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