SCOTLAND is battling to stave off a shortage of salt to grit its roads as the country prepares for at least two weeks of snow and ice.
The Scottish Government was forced to step in last night to ensure there was enough salt to grit roads in Fife this morning and supplies were said to be at "critically low levels in many councils across Scotland".
Transport Scotland, which is responsible for ensuring that Scotland's motorways are gritted, told The Scotsman that councils may have to consider setting up a programme of supply sharing.
Met Office forecasters are warning of fresh snowfalls today in central and northern parts of the country, and do not expect a thaw at all this week.
Temperatures at nights in central Scotland are expected to be between -5C and -10C but could reach -15C, creating instant ice problems where there is snow or rainfall.
David Lonsdale, assistant director of business lobby CBI Scotland, said the severe weather could have a major impact on Scotland's economy as poor travel conditions stop people from returning to work from the Christmas and New Year break.
He said the country has been lucky the cold snap has, until now, been at a quiet time of year for Scottish businesses.
"When people are heading back to work, if the weather continues as it has over the last 14 days then we will see lots of disruption to businesses," he said.
"This could have a knock-on effect on the economy. It is going to affect all companies north of the Border if there is another couple of weeks of cold, chilly weather.
"The best thing businesses can do is plan ahead and put in place strategies for coping with staff absences, such as getting other staff to cover.
"To be fair to businesses, they have introduced a lot of flexible working practices, and have plans in place to enable people to work from home."
Fife Council officials have hit out at salt suppliers for not being prepared for the cold spell and failing to have enough supplies in stock.
Bob McLellan, the council's head of transportation, said yesterday: "Our supplier has let us down badly and we are now in the position that we are likely to run out of salt altogether.
"Today and for the past two weeks, we have been working night and day to try to source additional salt for the roads.
"Most, if not all Scottish councils, appear to be in a very similar situation and stock levels are at critically low levels in many councils across Scotland.
"To be unable to grit the roads is our worst-case scenario as public safety is always of the utmost importance to us."
However, the government last night played down the claim there was a nationwide shortage and attempted to reassure the public there would be enough grit to make the roads safe.
Finance secretary John Swinney said: "The Scottish Government is working tirelessly to keep Scotland moving. Our officials alerted Transport Scotland to the situation in Fife and, as a result of our intervention, enough supplies of salt have now been sourced to treat roads for the immediate future.
"Salt levels are sufficient at present to deal with the situation – any suggestion to the contrary is not correct – and our operating companies are regularly replenishing their stocks."
Transport Scotland also attempted to reassure the public that there is enough salt to keep Scotland's motorways open.
A spokeswoman said: "The Trunk Road Operating Companies continue to work round the clock. However, during periods of heavy snow or very low temperatures, ploughing and salting alone cannot guarantee that the roads remain clear of ice and snow.
"In such conditions, drivers are urged to consider only essential journeys, consult the Traffic Scotland website, listen to radio reports and allow extra time for journeys."
Meanwhile, Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue averted one tragedy when it rescued a Shetland pony at Northfield farm by Longridge, after the roof of a barn collapsed with the weight of the snow.
A crew had to cut through timber and metal to release the pony, which was unharmed.