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Winter Resilience

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 26th October 2011.

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Photo of Anne McTaggart Anne McTaggart Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I am sure that all members will agree that a comprehensive action plan for dealing with severe winter weather is essential. We have, after all, seen the results of bad responses in bad weather. I therefore welcome the winter weather review group’s report, which was published last week. I am glad that the Government acknowledges in it that lessons had to be learned from last year.

Last year, we witnessed the appalling situations that we have heard about from the previous speakers. I agree with the review group’s assertion that disruption from severe winter weather is inevitable, but a standstill should not be. We cannot run the risk of families, commuters or ill people being stuck on a motorway worrying whether they have enough petrol to keep their car running in order to keep warm.

The report states that, in terms of snowfall and cold weather, the winter of 2009-10 was the most severe for 31 years and that December 2010 was the coldest December for over 100 years. All of that is fair to say, but it fails to recognise that our technology, machinery and forecasting ability were the best that they had ever been. In other words, the problem of the coldest December in a century was made worse by the mismanagement of resources.

The gridlock on our motorways not only left people of all ages isolated but left businesses out in the cold. According to the Freight Transport Association, a haulage vehicle’s running costs can reach £400 a day, so the standstill was an unwelcome blow for smaller businesses, in particular. The weather struck the business community when our economy was taking a hit as a result of the Government in Westminster cutting too fast and too far, and the problem was compounded by the Government in Holyrood acting too slowly and too late.

We witnessed unnecessary problems not just on our roads but in our public transport services. Delays and cancellations as a result of bad weather are not unheard of—I am sure that every member can testify to that—but the cancellation of train services mid-journey, without replacement services or stand-by buses being organised, was not good enough. If the Scottish Government can organise a knighthood for a bus tycoon, why could it not organise a bus to pick up stranded train passengers?

The winter weather review group said that part of the rail network suffered from flooding

“following short duration/high intensity rainfall which overwhelmed local drainage system.”

I am sure that many members who use the service from Glasgow Queen Street can bear witness to the flooding at Queen Street tunnel. Long-term weather predictions suggest that our winter climate will become milder and wetter, so I fear that there will be more service disruption in the area unless the problem is tackled. Despite the commitment in the report to further study of water volumes and drainage systems, there is no mention of potential flooding on the rail network in the briefing that ScotRail kindly provided for the debate, which I am sure members have read.

It is important to learn lessons from what happened to Scotland’s roads and public transport services last year. We must also address another alarming issue. The number of Scottish households that are categorised as fuel poor has reached 900,000. The Scottish Government must act to protect vulnerable members of our community as winter approaches. If conditions are similar to those last year, the number of fuel-poor households will rise, as will, I fear, the number of deaths that are attributable to people having to choose between being cold and going hungry.