This week’s snowfall and freezing temperatures have meant treacherous conditions for Scotland’s commuters.
Winter is always a time of year when we should take more care and look out for those who are less able to get out and about.
As First Minister, I chaired many of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Committee (SGoRR) in times of severe weather to co-ordinate the Government’s response to the conditions and ensure help was directed to the communities that needed it most. It was during the recent “weather bomb” before Christmas that I almost reached for the phone to find out what was being done to prepare. Thankfully, it is no longer my task to spring into action in such difficult times.
But second nature aside, the Scottish Government has to rely heavily on local authorities to carry out the day-to-day upkeep of our communities in the face of adverse conditions.
And, sadly, it seems as though some areas of Aberdeen have been overlooked by Aberdeen City Council during this week’s cold snap.
I took to the streets of Bridge of Don earlier this week to campaign with local activists and talk to residents about what the SNP are doing for their area. And while we had a warm response at the doors, we had a tough time getting to them due to the extremely icy pavements.
Perhaps Willie Young, Aberdeen City Council’s finance convener, should direct resources towards protecting life and limb of the residents living in his own ward in Bridge of Don.
There was not a grit bin in sight to allow residents to help themselves and their neighbours.
I have written to Aberdeen City Council chief executive Angela Scott to find out exactly what provision has been made over the last few days to clear residential pavements and roads using gritters. Speaking to residents, it would appear that no pavement gritters have been seen out and about in Bridge of Don this week.
By contrast, in Aberdeenshire there were pavement gritters out across the area in Banchory, Portlethen, Laurencekirk, Ellon, Inverurie, Insch, Kintore, Blackburn, Newmachar, Kemnay, Westhills, Alford and Huntly.
I am very pleased that Aberdeenshire Council has worked hard to cover such a wide geographical area every day. Thanks to all staff who have worked hard through some grim weather to keep us all safe while travelling and getting around our towns and villages.
But while Aberdeenshire Council’s winter readiness plan is on track I think its flag-flying policy needs a new direction. The authority has confirmed that there are no plans to fly the saltire from the flagpoles above Inverurie Town Hall to mark the birth of Scotland’s national poet.
I first wrote to the council about its flag-flying policy for public buildings across the North-east issue in February, 2014. Locals business owners contacted me with their concern that the bare flagpoles gave the town centre an air of neglect and hoped that there would a quick fix by the local authority.
Aberdeenshire Council’s current policy is against flying any flags above the iconic Victorian town hall in Inverurie’s Market Place.
I was pleased to secure a concession from the council so that flags could be flown from the roof of the hall for a special Homecoming parade in August, 2014, to celebrate the success of local Commonwealth Games medallists Hannah Miley, of Inverurie, and Viorel Etko, from Oldmeldrum.
Despite earlier assurances that the policy would be reviewed, Aberdeenshire Council has not changed the policy and have since confirmed it will not be updated before Burns Night celebrations on January 25th.
An online poll conducted by STV last weekend showed overwhelming support for having the saltire flown from public buildings to celebrate Burns Night. The results showed that 86 per cent of respondents were in favour of flying the saltire on January 25th.
My constituents are rightly exasperated that the council have dithered for almost a year over this issue, which is a real concern for Inverurie’s town centre retailers, who want to see the town looking its best for visitors. The 25th of this month offers a great opportunity for the “timorous beasties” at Aberdeenshire Council – to hoist the flag and honour the bard.