The UK’s salt producers, through the Salt Association, has provided reassurance that salt production nationally is where it needs to be as we move towards the 2018/19 winter season; and urges highways authorities at national and local levels across the UK to be as prepared as they can be and to guard against any complacency in managing and maintaining their salt stocks.
Salt is the essential ingredient of all accepted road de-icing methods, so the value and benefit of UK-produced salt should be seen as key to the industry because, not despite of, how commonplace it is. As applied in dry form, it is tried and tested and supported by decades of successful de-icing results.
As such, salt enables highways authorities to meet their statutory duties by keeping our roads as safe as reasonably practical during snowy and icy weather. Although salt producers may have plentiful stocks this does not alter the fact that the highways authorities have the statutory duties for covering winter maintenance. Salt stock maintenance by highways authorities through mid-season top-ups is essential to avoid some of the difficulties witnessed last winter in securing supplies.
As the new winter season approaches, the Salt Association wishes to communicate the supply chain experiences and challenges faced last winter by highways authorities and, consequently, by their salt-producing suppliers.
- Some local authority depots ran their stocks down too early towards the end of last winter, while others were known to be taking on additional gritting routes without increasing the overall depot salt stock levels. This caused problems during the late-winter extremely cold conditions.
- Forecasts of snow events led to spikes in salt orders at times when delivery lorries were inevitably being delayed by the snowy conditions and this was exacerbated by too many depots showing a lack of flexibility in their opening times to accept deliveries, which were arriving later than scheduled.
- Coastal shipping of supplies was also badly affected with a number of ports being closed during the ‘Beast from the East’.
- Aside from the challenges posed by snow and ice, there are symptomatic, longer-term issues concerning haulage and logistics which compound the problem. References are increasingly being made to the shortage of suitably-skilled HGV drivers, and a perceived year-on-year decline in the numbers of tipper trucks available to salt hauliers.
- Competing demands from other sectors for road haulage exacerbated the situation last year and can be expected again this year – most notably from the agricultural sector with the movement of the grain harvest, fertilisers and animal feeds, and from the major consumer-goods retailers re-stocking for Christmas.
These challenges, taken as a whole, present a situation in which the Salt Association believes there is decreasing capacity in the salt supply chain, and it is important that all highways authorities should take note.
In short, during last winter there were some local authorities taking unnecessary risks with the supply chain by ignoring the salt stock resilience benchmark of 12 days/48 gritting runs at 20g/m2 recommended in the Quarmby Report; instead continuing to adopt a ‘just in time’ approach.
The Salt Association echoes the Department for Transport’s view that
- it is unfair to expect salt producers and hauliers to deliver within 24 hours of an order, particularly when the country is entering a severe snow event;
- once a highways authority has used any stock, it should re-order what was used so as to retain the 12 day benchmark throughout the winter season.
Through being mindful of the challenges of the supply chain, these measures will safeguard authorities against being victim to potential logistical problems in the winter season and will not leave them in the position of having to contact neighbouring authorities or the DfT for help. It is vital that important lessons from the past are learned so that highways authorities are as prepared as they can be.
The UK’s salt producers look forward to supporting the whole country throughout the coming winter season and beyond.