COST to the UK economy of the mounting chaos bought by the snow and unseasonally cold temperatures could be as much as £1.2bn a day, it was claimed yesterday.
As the seventh day of the cold snap saw the disruption reach the south-east of England, with more than six inches of snow falling overnight, Labour’s shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle used the figure, estimated by insurer RSA, to accuse the government of “complacency” amid the freezing weather conditions.
For the capital, the London Chamber of Commerce, forecast the cost of the disruption caused by the snow, through missed days at work and lost retail trade, would “now undoubtedly be in the millions.”
As many as two in five people were unable to get into work yesterday, a survey by law firm Peninsula found, as Gatwick Airport remained shut, commuter rail services were suspended and road conditions remained treacherous.
While many chose to work from home, law firm Kingsley Napley warned the lack of a policy on weather-related absence left employers vulnerable to discrimination claims.
Head of employment law Richard Fox said such a policy, clarifying the expectations of an absent employee and whether that worker would get paid if not able to work from home, would ensure even treatment of all employees and prevent possible discrimination claims from an ad hoc system implemented by day-to-day managers.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond, who yesterday ordered an urgent review of how the transport system has coped, insisted that the government was doing everything possible “to keep Britain moving”, but that “the scale of the weather event” had to be taken into account.
Travellers are expected to face further misery today with heavy snow warnings for London and the South East last night and widespread icy roads expected. Gatwick Airport will remain closed until at least 6.00am and train companies in the south-east Southern, the London-to-Brighton operator, and Southeastern, paralysed by snowfall in Kent, are both expected to have more delays and cancellations into London.
One beneficiary of the weather however were the big shopping chains. Marks & Spencer said there had been a 121 per cent increase in demand for thermal clothing in the past week, while Asda said it had sold about 100,000 units of de-icer and Waitrose said sales for the past week were up 11 per cent overall on the previous year as shoppers stocked up. However, Waitrose parent John Lewis said the past week had seen sales level with this time last year due to lower customer numbers in the poor conditions.