Snow chaos is turning UK into a joke

 
Allister Heath
BRITAIN’S humiliating inability to cope with winter conditions is becoming almost unbearable. Heavy snowfall is not a freak event. It now happens every year – and yet the authorities and transport companies appear utterly unable to learn any meaningful lesson from the annual debacle that is the onset of snow and bad weather. It is beyond a bad joke that so many train services have been cancelled, that passengers have had to sleep in carriages, that many have had to put up with horrible commutes, that airports are not working, that roads are being turned into car parks and that supermarkets are seeing supply chains disrupted. Business is being lost, time wasted and the economy is being damaged unnecessarily. It is especially disastrous for retailers, who need a good December ahead of what will be a weak January, courtesy of higher VAT.

Competitiveness is not just about tax rates and legal systems. It is also about a country’s transport, technology and energy infrastructure. Yet for all our chest-thumping about Crossrail and mobile internet penetration rates, we are falling abysmally short on all of these as a country (it’s not just the snow; try and get a proper broadband connection set up in an office in central London and you will soon discover that the UK is still suffering from a communist-era mindset). London is meant to be one of the financial and economic powerhouses of the world – yet we are turning into a laughing stock, incapacitated by the kind of weather that a French, German or American city could easily cope with.

One problem is ideology: too many people convinced themselves that global warming would mean no more cold winters and no more snow (remember all those forecasts that London and the South East would by now be basking in a Mediterranean climate?) Another is misplaced priorities from government officials, who cannot be bothered to focus on their core responsibilities. When was the last time most people saw a snow-plough in operation in or around London? The government may be tightening its belt but councils own the roads; it is their basic duty to keep them clear. More grit is needed. Last but not least, transport companies and airports don’t seem to realise that they need to spend more money on ensuring that disruptions to their services are almost non-existent, regardless of weather conditions. The whole thing is a disgrace. We need to get our act together, and fast.

LEARNING FROM GOODWIN

So Sir Fred Goodwin, the man who brought RBS to its knees, has escaped sanctions from the Financial Services Authority. After an 18-month investigation, the FSA said while the bank took a “series of bad decisions” these blunders “were not the result of a lack of integrity by any individual and we did not identify any instances of fraud or dishonest activity…or a failure of governance on the part of the board.”

This has outraged many – but the FSA is right. I have no time for the disgraceful Goodwin but crucially he didn’t break the law. It shouldn’t be illegal to go bankrupt or to fail. Shareholders angry about yesterday’s verdict are barking up the wrong tree. They need to organise themselves and force boards to improve and tighten the contracts they give CEOs. There should be no more rewards for failure, no massive payouts or pensions for those who get the sack. But getting it wrong should never be a crime.

allister.heath@cityam.com