'Anything that helps us as decision-makers is always a priority.'


One of the stars of Cold Comfort last year, Carol Valentine, highway manager for West Kent, talks to Transport Network about getting prepared for the winter to come and of course the Winter Service Practical Guidance - Appendix H.

Q. How have you found the implementation of Appendix H?

We have used a simplified gritting matrix built on Appendix H. It has certainly helped us with decision-making. It doesn’t mean it can’t be improved and we are going to Cold Comfort to see if there is some further work to be done around Appendix H - to see if there can be some further clarification and simplification.

Q. Have you had conversations with other local authorities to try and share best practice?

We have talked to a couple of other authorities about route optimisation just in fairly broad terms, about possible different approaches. We have had a couple of conversations with Derbyshire, giving them advice based on our experience. One thing we did this past winter is look at equipment, snow blowers and that sort of thing, to find out what other people do on that.

I think over the last winter, through having a good look at the routes, I am much more confident that what we are treating is actually the network we should be treating according to our policy. So that was one of the best things that came out of route optimisation for us, looking at things afresh helped. Going forward one of the things I want to do at Cold Comfort is see what other people have done on things like route based forecasting. We are not doing it at the moment but it is something we want to look at and see what other people have done and how effective they have found it - if they have had any cost savings and things like that.

Q. Why are you not using route based forecasting at the moment?

There is a transitional issue there, you have to go through a process. You have to look at the routes that you have: are you doing the right routes in terms of your network hierarchy? We have done that. Then we looked at how we could get the routes better planned for the drivers. That’s what we did last year. The route based forecasting is another approach that could potentially be taken. I am not saying that we will take it but it’s another area that could take our business in another direction. There is always going to be a cost associated with it. Certainly we would not want to do anything like that in the very short-term future.

Q. How long do you think the move to route based forecasting would take if you were to adopt it?

That is one of the things I am hoping to find out more about from colleagues, providers and weather forecasting groups, who offer that kind of a service. What I wanted when we did our route optimisation last year was to be able to do as much as we can in-house and look at how we can improve the routes round the domains we have already. So if we were going to move to route based forecasting it would probably be a couple of years I would guess. We are still in times of austerity so we are limited in terms of what we can do in terms of up front costs.

Q. How much of an issue does austerity present now? Are you about further cuts coming down the line?

In Kent CC we are very clear in our mid-term plan (3-5 years) and we know, without necessarily knowing every last figure, that we are not looking at great budget increases particularly around our revenue. I just think most local authorities, even if they don’t talk about austerity, will be aware that our budgets are not necessarily going to be increasing in the next three to five years, maybe longer.

Q. Do you have a plan to invest in hardware in the medium term?

We have a renewal budget in the authority, which I think every authority has, so we can put in a bid for the renewal fund, which we have done because some of our snow blowers for instance are in the region of 30 years old. But before I purchase them I have got to do a feasibility study, looking at what we have and what we need to replace. One of the companies that provide them has supplied the BEAR Scotland contract and we have some information from them. It is something I would probably do in the next couple of years, at the moment we are still at the feasibility stage.

Q. After Amey's deal with Enterprise it took over as your contractor. Have you seen any improvements from a new model of working?

It wasn’t too different to be honest. Amey had acquired Enterprise of course, so we had a lot of the same staff. We lost a few drivers but we have enough. Many of them have been driving the gritting routes for years. It has gone smoothly.

Q. Do you have any advice to other authorities about similar transitions?

I think co-location works very well, and I think if both the contractor and the client develop a very clear winter plan that is shared and discussed together, you then all understand what you have to do. That’s very important.

Q. We have moved Cold Comfort forward this year. What would you say are the three most important things to be thinking about at this stage in the winter service process?

1. I think decision-making is always going to be right up there. Anything that can help us as decision-makers is always going to be a priority. We always like to talk to colleagues and other decision makers when we attend Cold Comfort.

2. Equipment is always important. We will be looking at the smaller vehicles for narrow roads when we go up to Cold Comfort. The big rigs are fine and working well. We will be looking if there is anything new in the smaller range that could be useful for us on the contract.

3. Thinking about Appendix H and seeing if there is anything different that we can incorporate into our policy. 


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