THERE'S no shortage of salt and Fife Council have "virtually doubled" the number of drivers to treat icy and snowy roads this winter.

But while they're ready for the cold weather they're struggling to meet rising costs, an expanding network of streets and pavements and the demands of the public.

Last winter was classed as 'severe' due to the heavy snow in February with the service almost £1.8m overspent – but councillors were told we pay a high price when it's milder too.

In a report Ken Gourlay, head of assets, transportation and environment, said: "Whilst the winter budget is set to deal with a generally mild winter, this budget is now under increasing pressure due to increased operational costs and public expectations."

Just over £3m was allocated for winter services in 2020-21 but expenditure was £4.8m. The budget is now £3.1m for 2021-22.

There are 21 primary routes that will get 24-hour coverage when required with a target of completion within three hours of gritting commencing.

Fife has 1,362km of roads that are given priority treatment (56 per cent of the whole road network), in comparison Edinburgh has 747km.

Including drivers, gritters, salt and depots, this came to almost £2m in 2020-21.

The council will again hire mini tractors for 16 weeks to clear snow and treat icy pavements and this cost £586,000 last year.

Mr Gourlay said that maintaining these levels of service, against current budgets and an expanding network would put future delivery under "pressure".

He added that, apart from the 'polar vortex' of 2010 and the 'Beast from the East' in 2018, winters in Fife have tended to be milder and wetter.

But that has led to a rise in occasions where road surface temperatures hover around freezing, with more gritting required than when there's a prolonged 'dry' frost.

Mr Gourlay said that had contributed to the overspend and he explained: "These marginal conditions require constant close attention often resulting in full treatments on both evenings and mornings."

Councillors were told there were no issues with salt supplies, they're planning for 22,000 tonnes plus a contingency of 3,000 tonnes that will arrive just before Christmas, which costs around £1m and would cover 40 days of continual winter working.

In 2020-21 an above average 22,393 tonnes of salt was used.

Asked about an alternative to salt, Bill Liddle, service manager for road maintenance operations, said: "Trunk road authorities use liquid brine to put on the roads, but to convert all of our vehicles to use it would be very costly."

However, they will trial a new fully automated salting system and are making use of sat-navs and new 'route optimisation' software.

The number of drivers they can call on this winter have "virtually doubled" with bin lorry workers adding to those normally drawn from transportation.

There's also a new weather forecasting contract with Met Desk, who work with a number of local authorities, taking over from the Met Office.

The council will start refilling all 3,085 grit bins in Fife in the second week of October and aim to complete the job within four-to-five weeks.

However, in the event of severe weather, Mr Gourlay admitted it was "unlikely" they'd be able to meet requests to refill them within the five working days target.

Committee convener, Cllr Altany Craik, said: "I will hark back to the thing I've done more in the last decade than anything else and that's to moan about cuts to budgets.

"The reality is it is five days to refill grit bins because we don't have the budget we used to have.

"The budget for this service in particular has been hit hard."