Tyne & Wear

Northumberland County Council probe into gritter 'blunder'

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Media captionAlan Thompson said an "inefficient process" could be to blame

Council bosses in Northumberland have begun an inquiry after it emerged new winter road gritters will not be delivered until the New Year.

Five machines, costing £60,000 each, were ordered in the summer to replace ageing vehicles ahead of a predicted third successive harsh winter.

The council investigation will focus on whether staff placed the order for the gritters too late in the year.

One opposition councillor described the situation as "horrific".

The council, which is run by a minority Liberal Democrat administration, has a fleet of about 30 gritters.

Five, based in the south east of the county, have been deemed no longer fit for purpose. But the authority has admitted replacements will not now arrive until January 2012 at the earliest.

Executive member for highways and neighbourhood services Alan Thompson stressed the council would still be able to treat vital roads.

'Absolutely horrified'

But he added: "I am not going to try to defend the indefensible."

Mr Thompson said procurement procedures were being examined to see if the order for the gritters should have been placed earlier in the year.

He said: "We had the requirement for these things, but we have also had to save over £100m since we came into office and you have to phase these purchases into a plan.

"Having said that, any idea that we will not be able to respond if we have heavy snow is simply not true."

Mr Thompson said the authority had 40,000 tonnes of stockpiled salt, which he said would be enough to see the council through the winter.

But Conservative councillor Wayne Daley said: "I am absolutely horrified.

"It was agreed in the worst of the winter weather in January that these new gritters were needed to keep our transport and infrastructure running and drivers safe.

"This is a horrific state of affairs and the county council should be thoroughly ashamed of itself."

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