Friday 3 December 2010

Weather issues - an update

Over the past few days, I have highlighted with the winter maintenance team a very significant number of streets where residents have raised concerns about road/footpath condition - including Millhall Crescent, Hyndford Place, Shaftesbury Road (west end), Shaftesbury Park, Spinners Wynd, various streets in Pentland, Kelso Street, Kelso Place and the Kelso Steps, Corso Street ... and numerous others.     Residents have been very understanding about the huge challenge facing the gritting operation and the City Engineer updated councillors earlier today as follows :

"We are receiving an unprecedented amount of enquiries at the moment. Many of the enquiries relate to the clearing of non-priority carriageway and footway routes and unfortunately due to the continued snowfall it has not been possible to progress much in this area. With the forecast being less snow it is hoped to start making some in roads into these over the weekend and next week but much of the additional resource we have had has been working on the priority of opening schools.
With the number of enquiries we are receiving it is not possible to answer all of these in a short timescale but I can confirm that all of them are being read and actioned as appropriate in accordance with the above priorities. We will formally respond to enquiries as soon as we can.

Please note that grit bin locations and priority gritting routes are available to view on the Council website under A to Z - Winter."

I will continue to raise all residents' winter maintenance concerns with the City Engineer as these are raised with me.

I also received a number of concerns from parents of Harris Academy pupils last night about the decision to open the school today.   As I indicated last night to the City Council's Chief Executive :

"I have received concerns about the decision to open Harris Academy tomorrow. Very many of the residential streets in the catchment area are hugely snowbound and the Met Office suggests visibility at 3pm Friday just before the school day ends will be "Very Poor."

What advice has been given to parents who live in streets that are extremely snowbound (most of the area) who have concerns about their child setting off in such conditions? Are they permitted to keep their child at home if they are concerned about this and have they been given such advice?"

David Dorward, Chief Executive, very promptly responded first thing this morning as follows :


The additional resources we have allocated from DCS and Waste Management have been focusing on the addressing car parks, playgrounds and surrounding roads and footways, within and around the secondary schools. A risk assessment on each individual secondary school was carried out late afternoon yesterday, and the outcome of these assessments was that 6 secondary's could open, including the Harris, and 3 would remain closed.

Jim Collins [Director of Education] visited Harris at 8.20 this morning and has confirmed that the school should open, albeit pupils will be advised on the care they should exercise within the school curtilage and coming and going to school.

We have a daily meeting at 3.00pm where we will review this position again, and of course we are receiving regular updates throughout the day on the position of each of the schools. Work is continuing on the 3 unopened secondary schools and the primary schools with the intention to open these on Monday 6th December."

... and I was further updated by the Director of Education this evening :

"Dear Fraser

David has asked me to respond to your enquiry.

I very much appreciate that parents will be left with difficult decisions regarding their children going to school, but ultimately that decision must lie with them. If they judge it unsafe or impractical, they must be free to decide not to send their children to school. For information, we will record the absence, but will use the code which denotes it as owing to adverse weather.

Where parents have phoned or emailed us to enquire about attendance, we have been able to advise them as above.

You will be interested to know that 400 pupils attended Harris today. When you consider that another c.150 were already on authorised absence (illness, etc.), we are close to accounting for some 50% of the Harris population.

Even more pleasing was the attendance of 92% of teaching staff, and I am deeply grateful to them and to similar numbers across the city who made strenuous efforts to get in.

We all appreciate that this has been a hugely difficult week. Health and safety concerns have been paramount in our decision to close all schools Monday to Thursday, and all primary and early years schools today. However, I have also been very concerned about the impact on children's education, and I was therefore pleased that we were able to offer a very limited service today. That is the first sign - weather permitting - that we are slowly returning to normal!

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss this further."

I have responded as follows :

"Thanks Jim & I appreciate the feedback. You will be aware that the concerns raised with me by parents related to the condition of many local roads/pavements (many atrocious despite the best efforts of the winter maintenance operation) and visibility at the end of the school day.   I do feel the helpful advice you give parents who contact the department could also be given in the website & Twitter updates the Council has been making – eg the latest release about plans for Monday.

I totally agree with you about the huge commitment of teaching staff and this is reflected right across the council’s employees and departments during a very challenging week."