Over the last two winters Wales has experienced severe winter weather with the combination of extremely low temperatures and widespread snowfall causing disruption to services across the country. Given the relative unpredictability of the winter weather, planning in Wales has been based on a reasonable worst case scenario to minimise any disruption from such severe weather conditions.
The Minister confirmed that Wales will start this winter season with higher level of salt stocks than ever before.
"Working with the Welsh Local Government Association, we have collated the level of salt used by each local authority in Wales over the last six winters. The target figure for salt stock at the start of the season for each local authority has been set at one and a half times their average salt usage over that period. To ensure that salt stocks are accessible across Wales, reserve stocks will be developed and situated in north, mid and south Wales, together with additional stocks being held in the M4 barns."
The new look Traffic Wales website being launched this week includes improved links to local authority websites for local information, improved links to weather information providers, ongoing development of a specific information area for freight hauliers and a page giving guidance on winter driving.
The Minister also highlighted a number of campaigns that are in place to help alleviate pressures on health services, including Keep Well This Winter, Choose Well and an influenza immunisation campaign.
In terms of school closures, last autumn/winter the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association issued joint guidance which gave advice to schools on whether to remain open or close in extremely bad weather. The guidance remains current and includes a general risk assessment, which can be adopted to suit every school's circumstances and provides examples of the issues that schools may face, with suggestions on how to tackle them.
In addition to this, new absence recording codes were introduced in September 2010 which means that should a school be forced to close half way through the day their attendance statistics would no longer be affected.
The Minister also set out how the Welsh Government funded ‘Nest’ fuel poverty scheme will help keep people warm this winter and reduce their fuel bills.
Carl Sargeant added:
"Despite the best efforts of those involved in winter service, during adverse weather travelling conditions in some areas can still be difficult, ice free roads cannot be guaranteed and care needs to be taken. The winter pages on the Welsh Government website provide information on weather forecasts, transport, school closures, local services and health. These will be updated as necessary throughout the winter."