Sean O'Grady: Swings and roundabouts... the economic fallout of this crisis is likely to be minimal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Provided it doesn't drag on much longer, the economic impact of the volcanic ash cloud ought to be minimal. Even quite serious protected crises, such as foot-and-mouth in 2001, tend to have only a limited effect on overall GDP. For all its drama, foot-and-mouth cost the economy just 0.2 per cent of GDP. And the recent cold weather, which lasted much longer and had a more pervasive effect, reduced GDP by 1 per cent at most – around £14bn – but probably much less.

A less-than-earth-shaking impact of a few billion pounds in lost output would seem to be the best guesstimate of the volcanic effect – not enough to push the economy back into recession. The airlines, and the travel and tourist trades, have taken a hit, but the net effect may be minimal. Stranded passengers are, in economic terms, unwilling tourists, and they will have to pay for accommodation and food. And as the airlines suffer, the railways and the ferry companies will enjoy a windfall.

The second-largest effect will be British workers being unable to return to work. Then again, the loss can be exaggerated, as their colleagues may cover for them. To the extent that there will be a loss, it is probably less than that in the average postal strike. The third effect comes in the waste of perishable goods and hold-ups in the supply chain as manufacturers and others wait for vital components or spare parts to be flown in.

Finally, there is the damage to confidence. Unlike 9/11 or the collapse of Lehmans, which shook confidence badly for months, the dust should settle on economic life quickly after this cloud clears.