Business as usual in City as Britain grinds to halt

FREEZING weather, heavy snow and iced-up roads may have given many Londoners the perfect excuse to avoid work yesterday but thankfully the City of London continued to function as normal with the minimum of disruptions. Insurer RSA yesterday estimated that a single day of severe weather could cost the London economy more than £145m as businesses lose out. Alarmingly, for the wider UK that figure rises to £600m – not good news when we are battling to emerge from the economic doldrums.

Before Christmas it was the transport system that let down London. This time the biggest reason for absenteeism is school closures with parents around Britain having to stay at home to look after their children, according to the Federation of Small Businesses.

In the Square Mile it was a different story, however. Despite the state of the roads and some public transport difficulties most City firms were yesterday reporting business was continuing as usual with almost all staff members turning up to work apart from those who live the furthest outside London.

While markets were flat – the FTSE?100 index of leading shares ended up by just 0.1 per cent amid low trading volumes – fixed income, foreign exchange and derivatives were lively.

It is encouraging to find that City institutions continue to function whatever the weather. Rival financial markets such as New York and Geneva seem to manage more difficult conditions without the drama. Modern systems mean that trading is dictated by markets and not weather conditions.

Electronic trading, email and handheld devices such as the Blackberry enable many market functions to be carried out without the physical presence of City staff. So why did the vast majority battle into work yesterday – even those who live out in the home counties where conditions were much worse than central London.

It is easy to think people come in because they are rewarded handsomely to turn up each day and perform. As one Square Mile veteran put it: “These people are paid to get off their arses and get into work no matter what the weather.” This perhaps does the City workforce a disservice.

“Our workers are also highly motivated professionals who are dedicated to their jobs,” explains the head of one broking firm. “It is sometimes hard to persuade them to stay home even if they’re really sick.”

If only the same could be said of the wider working population. Research for Sky News yesterday showed 50 per cent of businesses reported a rise in absenteeism. And, during the snowstorms of February 2009, around 20 per cent of the UK workforce – around 6.4m people – failed to turn up to work. The weather we are currently experiencing is worse, suggesting that London’s economic output could be hit by up to £3bn if the weather continues for the predicted three weeks.

If the latest Met Office predictions of further “extreme” winter weather are proved accurate over the coming days the British economy is in for another pasting.

Snow forces Eurostar to cancel trains


EUROSTAR cancelled four trains yesterday due to bad weather and expects more problems just three weeks after powdery snow turned its rail link between Britain and France into a pre-Christmas undersea travel trap.

Snowstorms sweeping across southern England and northern France brought road and rail chaos, with Eurostar warning travellers of the same problems that left thousands stranded in the Channel Tunnel last month.

“Due to bad weather, certain services could be delayed or cancelled at the last minute,” Eurostar said in a statement.

Management decided on Tuesday night to cancel two trains linking Paris and London and two between London and Brussels, a spokeswoman said, adding that snow prevented many passengers reaching the stations.

Travellers were encouraged to swap yesterday’s bookings for another date.

A similar big chill gripped northern France in December and brought Eurostar trains to a three-day standstill, with the first breakdown leaving passengers stuck on the trains overnight for up to 16 hours.

Eurostar, operated by French rail company SNCF, its Belgian counterpart SNCB and British government-owned LCR, then said it was modifying its fleet to cope with powdery snow.

The failure was caused as trains moved from cold air outside into the warmer tunnel. Snow that had swirled into the trains then melted, causing condensation that affected electrical systems.