Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London Beat the Big Freeze without Meddling Ministers; Councils That Have Been Prudent in the Cold Weather Are Being Punished by the Government's Micro-Managing

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

London Beat the Big Freeze without Meddling Ministers; Councils That Have Been Prudent in the Cold Weather Are Being Punished by the Government's Micro-Managing

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Jenkins

LONDON has done well in the big freeze. My roads were gritted and salted, and in good time. The buses ran where they could. Trains and Tubes worked valiantly and there were few cases of "millions trapped by wrong snow on line". The public services deserve a thank you, as does the Kensington shop that offered me a glass of mulled wine on the pavement.

So what does the Government do? It surpasses parody. Having failed to predict the wet summer, it contrived not to predict the cold winter. Its Meteorological Office, now owned by the global warmers, promised only a one in seven chance of this winter being colder than average. It has become the coldest in 30 years. One in seven should be the odds against the Met Office boss, John Hirst, getting another 25 per cent pay and bonus rise from Alistair Darling, as he did last year. Many councils which are strapped for cash are understandably reducing their purchase of salt and grit.

After two weeks of being proved wrong, on Friday the Government went berserk. The transport minister, Lord Adonis, made a series of bizarre pronouncements making himself czar of the country's grit and salt, de facto nationalising supply. He said he was "working with the three principal salt suppliers to maximise production". This must be the first time since Stalin that a socialist has tried to run a salt mine.

Adonis said the Government "has taken the lead", presumably over everyone else. It was setting up something called a "salt cell" in the bowels of Whitehall. He was instructing local councils and the London Mayor to "consider what prioritisation is appropriate for their networks, reflecting local needs, strategic routes and key public services", as if that thought had never occurred to them. To this end he ordered a blanket 25 per cent cut in salt-spreading to conserve supplies, irrespective of whether councils had enough salt or not.

I can hear councils across the land crying like Mao's Red Guards: "Thank you, your lordship, thank you for your brilliant suggestions and much-needed leadership." This sort of initiative-itis is absurd. Why should councils that have prudently conserved supplies and formed their own priorities not be allowed to make decisions on salting? Why should they have to ring a government hotline to do their jobs, one that was reportedly closed all weekend? Why should some be penalised for their efficiency, to reward others that had not been so careful? Gordon Brown said last week that "those areas that need salt should not be denied it". Why not, if they failed to take precautions? I expect the Mayor and the boroughs, not Mr Brown, to keep London's roads open at present. Those that have done well, in spite of government weather forecasts, are entitled to take credit for it, rather than have their citizens punished by Lord Adonis. …

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