Snow disruption costs UK £280 million a day

Wednesday 16th Mar 2011 by theWeather Club

The snow chaos that hit the country during parts of the winter was a boon for the country’s satirists and provided many of the nation's children with a thoroughly enjoyed few days off. But there were some negative sides to so much of the white stuff falling from the sky all at once. There were the personal events events such as accidents and injury, and then there were the wider effects of the transport shutdowns suffered throughout Britain, some of which lasted for several weeks.

One area of real concern was the effect of the weather on the country's economy, since there had been a great deal of anecdotal evidence of local businesses coming under strain. Now new figures have emerged that confirm those fears. It turns out that the big freeze was a very expensive event indeed, and in more ways than one. Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has revealed that transport disruption over the winter cost the UK economy about £280m a day at the height of the bad weather. However in evidence given to the House of Commons Transport Committee enquiry into the disruption, Mr Hammond maintained that the rail network had operated “quite well given the extreme conditions”. But he said that flow of information from the rail networks to their customers about the ongoing disruption had been “inadequate” at best. While the rail networks were enjoying some ministerial support, BAA, which runs Heathrow airport, was not so lucky. Mr Hammond said that Heathrow had failed to adequately manage the extreme weather that almost brought the airport to a complete halt in the days before Christmas. He claimed that as a consequence the airport suffered “”enormous damage” to its reputation from cancellations and delays just before Christmas. This in spite of the enormous sums BAA had clearly spent trying to manage the situation.

The figures made interesting reading, giving as they do a quantifiable cost to current winter disruptions, and are sure to re-open the UK winter readiness debate. A good transport system is vital to any economy, which makes its effectiveness a political issue. All governments have to strike a balance between how much money they should spend – and encourage others to spend – on preventative measures that will only be needed occasionally, against the overall cost to the country when extreme weather hits with less measures in place. Until now the balance has been on the ‘cope with it when it hits’ side of the debate. But with the climate change models predicting more extreme weather as global temperatures rise, the balance may be starting to shift. After all £1.1 billion every four days provides an awful lot of reasons to ask if we have the balance right.