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Councillors remove savings target from road gritting review

SHETLAND Islands Council’s environment and transport committee has voted to remove a £50,000 savings target from an upcoming review of its road gritting service.

Members met on Tuesday morning to agree proposed budgets of £24.865 million for infrastructure services and £5.949 million for the transport planning service.

A review of the road gritting service will still go ahead, but at the behest of committee chairman Ryan Thomson and other councillors, it will no longer contain a presumption that savings will result.

The target had been set for a review that will consider options including the reduction of routes and the number of gritters, along with “operational efficiencies that could be generated by the use of new technology”.

But Thomson said that “given the impact on the community and the issues we’ve had this winter, the last think we should be looking at is reducing the number of gritters and routes”.

SNP councillor Robbie McGregor backed him, saying “I very, very strongly feel that to consider reducing the [gritting] budget is not where I want to go. I want to look at increasing the services.”

Councillor George Smith said he had “a lot of empathy” for McGregor’s sentiment and that the review should go ahead without the assumption that savings would result – “it might mean spending more”.

Regarding the wider infrastructure and transport budget pictures, finance chief Jonathan Belford outlined a host of challenges including an extra £415,000 to meet a pay award for staff, and almost half a million pounds on inflation in ferry fuel and electricity.

The department is also facing a loss of nearly £200,000 due to a downturn in demand at the Scord Quarry and £135,000 due to a reduction in the volume of waste going to landfill.

However there is a proposal to save £150,000 by introducing kerbside recycling for domestic and commercial properties.

The spending package – along with that for other departmental budgets – still has to go to the policy and resources committee and the Full Council for approval next week.