Freeze costs £125m as staff stay at home

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The Independent Online

This week's big chill cost business an estimated £125m because hundreds of thousands of workers chose to miss work and enjoy an extended weekend.

As the icy grip of the arctic snap loosened across much of Britain and snow was confined to Scotland, the thaw led to further predictions of travel disruption caused by flooding.

But up to 100,000 workers in London alone were thought to have started the weekend on Thursday or yesterday, according to industry estimates. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) estimated yesterday that the loss of business because of absent workers cost £25m.

London accounts for only a fifth of industry nationwide, so the cost of the impact on UK business could be £125m.

Derek Sach, president of the LCCI, said: "Other big European cities, from Oslo to Istanbul, function with heavier snowfalls. The fact that we were so badly affected points to two things. First, the continuing weakness of the transport infrastructure. And second, extremely poor managerial planning by those responsible for keeping the railways and Underground running."

While the arctic snap paralysed much of the country on Wednesday and Thursday, conditions were considerably improved by yesterday. Forecasts of further snowfall were confined to Scotland, while heavy rain was predicted in parts of England, including Yorkshire, raising fears of floods.

"Soon it will be mild, wet and windy," a spokesman for PA WeatherCentre said. "Rain and floods will be the next worry."

The rise in temperatures resulted in less congestion on roads in England and Wales, according to AA Roadwatch. "We're over the worst now," the motoring organisation said. However, air passengers failed to escape the legacy of the cold snap. British Airways, which cancelled around 200 flights on Wednesday and Thursday, yesterday scrapped 14 Heathrow services and one Gatwick flight.

The airline is reportedly seeking compensation for disruption to the flights from the British Aviation Authority, the body responsible for countering bad weather at airports.

A BA spokesman said: "There were icy conditions at Heathrow and it is BAA's responsibility to carry out airport de-icing."

While train services were said to have returned to normal, commuters travelling from Guildford to central London were offered one particularly unusual excuse for a late-running service. "It is because of unfamiliarity with the train," said the announcer, explaining that the service was one of the new Desiro trains being introduced by South West Trains.