THE amazing aspect of various statements made this week about this winter's road gritting and clearing operations in North Yorkshire is not the fact that the county council could be technically "bankrupt" soon.

What is amazing is that the council budget for keeping the roads of the country's biggest county clear of snow and ice for five months is just £5.6m. Anything more severe than a mild winter will mean that this budget will be "bust" not long after Christmas.

Mr Mike Moore, the senior council manager responsible for the road clearing budget, was not being alarmist when he used the term bankrupt at the upper Wensleydale parish forum on Wednesday. The point he was probably trying to make was that the county's funds for gritting were inadequate.

Faced with the expectations of dales parish councillors concerned at what they perhaps perceived as a threat to the service they have traditionally enjoyed, Mr Moore undoubtedly had to point out a few unpleasant facts of the county's ongoing budgetary crisis.

For a number of years now the county budget for what it strangely calls "winter maintenance" has been set in the knowledge that it will probably be insufficient if the county experiences more than the average number of frosty nights and snow during winter.

And it is also clear that as the county seeks to protect the money needed to fund its core education and social services, the winter maintenance budget will come under closer scrutiny.

Unless central government has a change of heart in the way it funds shire county authorities like North Yorkshire, there is likely to be less gritting and clearing in years to come rather than more.