Ever wondered what it costs to but road salt? £65 per tonne (plus VAT plus delivery). At least this is the price the Department for Transport is putting on its strategic stockpile of salt which will be available to local authorities to purchase if they are caught short this winter.
According to figures just released, the size of the reserve totals 425,000 tonnes – 305,000 tonnes held by the DfT itself and another 120,000 tonnes by the Highways Agency. These supplies have been imported.
Ministers are at pains to point out that the stockpile is the “salt of last resort” and the onus is on councils to have their own supplies already in place as the winter sets in, with a benchmark quantity allowing for 12 days/48 gritter runs. This starting point was one of the recommendations set out by the former RAC Foundation chairman David Quarmby in his report for government on winter resilience back in 2010.
To put the size of the strategic stockpile in context, the bad winter of 2009/10 saw highways authorities dispensing 1.8 million tonnes though according to the Quarmby Review the true requirement was probably much higher:
“… the 1.8 million tonnes use includes the effect of conservation measures introduced as an emergency during the winter – the “strong guidance” issued by the DfT in January 2010 to make drastic reductions to salt use. We have estimated that the underlying demand during this period – which would have continued in the absence of such conservation measures and as long as salt was available – was between 0.25 million and 0.4 million tonnes higher than the actual demand, giving a potential annual total of up to 2.2 million tonnes for England.”
The RAC Foundation’s own review of winter resilience during the freezing spells earlier this year (carried out by Brian Smith who worked with David Quarmby on his report) suggests councils have learned their lessons and are devoting time and money to keeping the roads passable. So far spending on winter resilience does not seem to have been cut as significantly as many other areas of local authority budgets.
The government says it will not be making a profit on the sale of the salt it now holds but it urges councils not to splash out needlessly as there will be no 14 day ‘cooling off period’ during which highways departments will get their cash back:
“The Department is unable to accept ‘returns’ once the authority has entered into a contract for purchase of the strategic salt.”