An opposition councillor has criticised Reading Borough Council (RBC) for crediting a reversal of winter gritting cuts to “identifying efficiency savings elsewhere in the budget”.

Conservative councillor Ed Hopper said the reversal to the planned removal of grit bins was a result of a new national code of practice.

However, the code of conduct, introduced by the UK Roads Liaison Group in October 2018, is not statutory and only provides guidance to councils.

Councillor Tony Page, lead member for strategic environment, planning and transport (SEPT), said: “Ultimately we could have decided to dispense with the grit bins because of the pressures.

"The key factor was the fact the budget savings could be delivered in another way."

Earlier this year, the council agreed to remove all council grit bins from the public highway network, to deliver required savings.

A council press release on October 15, and the quote from councillor Tony Page within it, stated the grit bins were now being retained because efficiency savings were identified elsewhere in the budget.

Speaking at the SEPT committee, on November 21, councillor Ed Hopper said this ignored the impact of the new code of conduct.

The council’s report on the winter service plan for 2018/19 states: “Officers considered that the risk in removing the [grit bins] was not acceptable under the new code of practice.”

Cllr Hopper said: “I find it slightly concerning when what the council puts out as a press release is not the actual reason for what is being done.

“I would have liked to have seen an admission of the actual reason for why this has been reversed.

"I think we need to be more careful in what we put in press releases.”

Sam Shean, streetcare services manager, said: “There was a range of reasons. It was the code of practice but there were also budgetary constraints. I had to find alternative savings to compensate.”

Cllr Page added: “Sam Shean, through his own skills and the competence of his colleagues, was able to produce a compensating saving that enabled us to retain the grit bins.

“We have tough budget choices to make because of your government deciding to impose continuing cuts on us.

“I stand by the press release.”

The new national code - ‘Well-managed Highway Infrastructure: A Code of Practice’ - states: “This Code of Practice is not statutory but provides Highway Authorities with guidance on highways management.

“Adoption of the recommendations within this document is a matter for each Highway Authority, based on their own legal interpretation, risks, needs and priorities.”