To the people stranded in their vehicles for twelve hours and more on the A80, M80. M8. A8, A74 and M74, please be assured by our very ain transport Minister, that yesterday saw a “first class response” to “unforecast snow”.
Yes, some of you were foolhardy, others downright stupid. If you could have avoided venturing out yesterday morning or at any point during the day, then you should have done. People do need to take responsibility for the current adverse weather conditions and avoid unnecessary risk. But many people on our main arterial routes would have good reason to be there.
The lorry drivers – whom the Scottish and UK governments had kindly allowed to work even more ridiculous hours in order to be able assuage the nation’s unending appetite for “stuff” – delivering, or at least trying to deliver, essential supplies. Question: if from the comfort of your own home, you spend hours online ordering stuff, how do you think it is going to get to you?
The small business owners, who don’t always live next door to their businesses for myriad reasons. If they don’t get to work, they don’t earn and consequently their families don’t eat. For many, the festive period is the peak season: some do over half their business at this time of year. They will absolutely do everything they possibly can to be at work and trying to keep their businesses – and hence, the economy – alive.
Employees who don’t have the luxury of decent employers or whose employers’ business needs people in situ in order to be viable. They don’t get to work, they don’t get paid. Worse, some could be sacked. It’s the poorly paid in the lowliest jobs, a kind of silent, invisible army, who keep all our lives turning and whom we scarcely give a thought to – they are the ones who will chance any weather to get to work while the rest of us get to choose to stay at home.
Folk with hospital appointments, for essential treatments, not always within the area they live in; families trying to get to a funeral of a loved one; teachers trying to get to the schools we all complain about when they are shut; NHS staff, social workers, NetworkRail employees being ferried about in vans to a succession of points failures; musicians scheduled to be playing in a concert at the other end of the motorway. Only the ones who thought they’d nip out for some Christmas shopping are undeserving of our sympathy.
And from Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, the least they could have expected last night, was an apology. Not a mea culpa, I am to blame apology. But a sincere, heartfelt sorry for you being in this situation. They are very different apologies and any media advisor in a crisis situation would always counsel the latter.
His failure to issue that apology on Newsnight Scotland has now become the issue. These are the kind of wee political snowballs that tend to gather speed and momentum as they race downhill to the finish line of resignation. No, Mr Stevenson is not personally responsible for snow nor for the stupidity of some travellers. But he is the Minister responsible for the environment and transport, and all the bodies that are supposed to deal with such issues. It is his job to keep Scotland moving.
Yesterday morning’s snow was forecast. What wasn’t anticipated was the worst case scenario, which is what happened. Snowfall that was worse than that forecast falling for longer at the worst possible time. What emergency planning took place over the relatively benign weekend for such an eventuality? What efforts were made by Transport Scotland before rush hour hit to keep both the major road and rail infrastructure moving?
And maybe the response to the situation seemed “first class” from the bunker he was sitting in, but not from the front seat view thousands of commuters had on it all. Emergency planning is also about anticipation and contigencies, not just responding to the latest crisis. Every year we get adverse weather and every year we seem to get it wrong. We fail to plan for the worst and then are caught out when the worst happens.
So here are some questions for all the planning authorities. This weather is likely to continue until the beginning of next week at least, some forecasters are suggesting it could last to Christmas. So what is being done to prevent more jack knifed lorries on our major arterial routes today and tomorrow? If some areas run out of fuel, what then? What is the contingency if our hospitals run out of blood supplies?
Bins have not now been emptied in some areas for more than a fortnight – what are people to do? Old people dependent on meals on wheels have gone without for over 10 days now: who is to feed them? The economy is losing millions because of the failure to keep schools open, largely because teachers cannot get in and there are no people resources to keep paths and emergency exits clear – what is being considered to change that? There are huge banks of snow on streets, in gardens, on hills and in car parks. When the thaw comes, as it will, how do we avoid flooding?
The burd would like to feel assured that our Transport Minister and others are asking and planning for such eventualities. Like everyone daring to venture over the door this morning, I fear I travel more in hope than in expectation.
Last night, Mr Stevenson gave a textbook “how not to” media interview. He did not – could not? – emphathise and feel people’s pain. He was almost arrogant about the quality of the response. He shifted the blame for the situation – to the weather, to the commuters, to the infrastructure – thereby, failing to take responsibility.
As the Minister said, “winter is not yet over”. Get it this badly wrong again and his career might just be.