Iain Whyte: Few complaints about the Beast from the East

Lothian Buses kept running for as long as possible and were back on the streets quickly (Picture: Alistair Linford)
Lothian Buses kept running for as long as possible and were back on the streets quickly (Picture: Alistair Linford)
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Residents understood the council couldn’t clear all the snow at once, writes Conservative group leader Iain Whyte.

Edinburgh’s momentous week of snow and freezing temperatures in the icy blast of the “Beast from the East” has made me reflect on our public services and the response of residents. Snow like we have had in the City is certainly not unheard of but is probably a once-in-a-decade event.

Iain Whyte is the Conservative Group leader at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Iain Whyte is the Conservative Group leader at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Very different from the more regular winter occurrence of a few light flurries for residents who live in the areas nearest to the Pentland Hills. What has surprised me this time is the lack of issues raised by residents. When there is light snow, the council’s apparent inability to cope is widely reported by constituents. This time the extra warnings seem to have hit home, and people understood the council couldn’t clear everything at once.

Most people have been very appreciative of what has been done and I am certainly very grateful to all the council and public service workers who have kept services running in difficult circumstances. Special thanks must go out to our gritting staff who worked so hard to keep main routes open to allow other essential workers get about. Without this the council and NHS health and social care responsibilities would be impossible to deliver. Also, thanks to Edinburgh Trams and Lothian Buses – exemplified by the Youtube heroics of driver Charmaine Laurie – which kept their services going as long as possible and got them up and running again quickly after stoppages.

There will, of course, be a need to review how our services coped and there are some issues to deal with. One of the small number of complaints I had from my ward was about gritting and path-clearing taking place in a public park when none of the local pavements leading to the shops or the doctors’ surgery had been touched. There are different teams who work on parks as opposed to pavements, but this sort of silo mentality was supposed to have ended. Local neighbourhood staff are meant to be tasked with the most urgent issues, so this is one I will take up at a less busy time.

I have also heard of some parent frustration at early school closure announcements in the lower lying parts of the city, like Trinity and Leith, where walking to school was certainly possible going by the kids’ ability to walk to parks for sledging fun. Again, we should review the blanket approach to closures although the eventual warnings and levels of snow mean these complaints are few and far between.

If anything, the biggest complaint I have had is from non-essential council staff who were rightly told to work from home but found the council’s IT system failed to give them the remote access needed to do their job. IT issues are a regular occurrence that the council chief executive is trying to fix with our contractor CGI. However, it is instructive that the service should fail, even for a short period, when it was most needed. As usual it is the basic services, not the emergency response, that lets the council down.

On a personal and political note, I was disappointed that the Scottish Conservative conference in Aberdeen was cancelled. A chance to network with colleagues and hear from our revitalised groups of MPs and MSPs will have to be postponed. But as I looked at online pictures of roads being cleared of snow in Aberdeenshire I fully understood. It also made me aware that we weren’t quite so badly hit here in Edinburgh and by a combination of hard work and heeding warnings our services and residents have coped well.