Bad weather costing economy £600m a day

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The Independent Online

Swathes of Britain were hit by a fresh wave of snow today as drivers faced treacherous conditions amid cutbacks in road gritting.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said the bad weather had brought the economy to a "standstill" - with estimates it was costing at least £600 million a day.

Many parts of the UK have gone three weeks without rubbish collections due to the icy conditions.

Major roads were closed, many airport runways shut and train services disrupted in the wake of the latest snowfall.

There were also a series of school closures as up to 6in (15cm) of snow blanketed parts of Wales and the south west overnight.

The band of wintry showers also hit the Midlands, the South East and central London early today.

But forecasters said the cold snap was not here to stay, with temperatures due to rise to the seasonal average of 7C (45F) by the end of the week.

Billy Payne, forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said there had been a "thin" covering of snow in the Midlands, the South East and London as temperatures hovered around freezing.

The snow is set to move up through the North East and into Scotland today, before thawing in most areas by the end of the day, he said.

The latest snowfall comes as the Government demanded further reductions in gritting.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said yesterday that gritting must be cut to as little as half the levels of this time last week to conserve stocks for further wintry weather.

The announcement came as local councils said ice had caused a higher than usual number of potholes with some estimating repair bills running into millions.

Herefordshire Council said the county was hit by drifts of up to 6ft (183cm) in some areas of high ground.

West Yorkshire Fire Service reported a spate of incidents on icy roads, including two involving vehicles hitting buildings.

One person was taken to hospital after a car went down an embankment and ended up on the roof of a factory in Meltham, near Huddersfield, at about 5.30am.

A lorry also hit a house in Morley, near Leeds, at about 1.40am.

The FSB said there should now be talks between local authorities, transport and salt mining companies, schools and the businesses to find solutions to deal with adverse weather.

"We need to be better prepared with more salt stocks for roads and better guidance for headteachers on when to close schools, to prevent staff from missing days of work and bringing the country, and the economy, to a standstill," FSB chairman John Wright said.

Gordon Brown pledged a full review of the arrangements for keeping Britain moving during severe weather after the recent heavy snowfall.

At Commons question time, the Prime Minister paid tribute to workers and volunteers for keeping the transport network going during "the worst weather for 30 years".

He said: "I hope people will continue to be able to work together for the common good. It does prove that Britain works best when Britain works together."

Tory leader David Cameron said the pressure on salt supplies showed lessons had to be learned from the severe weather.

Mr Brown told him: "We will review all these arrangements after this winter period."

Hospitals in Southampton, Hampshire, have seen a large increase in people requiring treatment for broken bones and breathing complications.

The Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust (SUHT) said it had been forced to cancel some non-emergency operations and keep planned admissions to a minimum.

A spokeswoman said the rise followed an "extremely busy" Christmas period in which the average number of patients rose to 60 per day more than last year, with 400 passing through the emergency department in one day.

Steve McManus, chief operating officer at SUHT, said: "Since before Christmas we have seen a significant increase in visits to our emergency department (ED), with high numbers of people injured as a result of slips and falls, as well as respiratory problems.

"We have been seeing twice the normal number of patients arrive in our ED on some days.

"We apologise to any patients who have had their operations cancelled, but we ask everyone to bear with us through what has been an exceptional few weeks for the hospital."

The Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust said it had seen a massive increase in calls following weather-related incidents.

A spokeswoman said: "This morning the service has experienced a fourfold increase in the number of 999 calls requesting ambulance assistance.

"Many calls have been for weather-related incidents for patients with injuries caused by falling over on icy surfaces.

"The weather is also causing extremely hazardous driving conditions for our ambulance crews but we are making every effort to get to patients as quickly and as safely as possible.

"We are urging people to take extra care when out walking or driving due to the treacherous conditions and ask that the public only call 999 for an ambulance in a medical emergency when it is obvious that someone has a life-threatening illness or injury."

A number of hospitals in the Yorkshire area also reported increases in fall-related injuries.

Bradford Royal Infirmary warned people with outpatient appointments not to put themselves in danger by travelling to the hospital.

Head of corporate affairs Jo Bray said: "Anyone with an outpatient appointment should not put themselves at risk on the roads and try to get to the hospital in these treacherous conditions.

"Rather than call the hospital's switchboard, patients should telephone the relevant department direct - the number will be on the appointment notification letter - and an alternative date will be arranged for them as soon as possible."

West Midlands Ambulance Service said Herefordshire and Worcestershire were worst hit in the region by the fresh snow, while Warwickshire, Shropshire and the Black Country had also seen significant falls. The service's head of specialist operations, Steve Wheaton, said: "If you do have to travel by road, please ensure you take warm clothing, sensible footwear, a shovel and snow chains, if you have them, with you. Our staff are having to use those same roads to get to 999 emergencies."

* About 130 schools announced they will be closed in Hampshire because of the weather conditions, with several others operating on reduced timetables. In Gloucestershire, more than 150 schools were closed, but some hoped to open later and others were offering limited services. More than 150 schools were shut in Wiltshire. Around 35 schools were closed in Bristol, some with late opening times and limited services, while 20 were shut across Somerset. In Devon, three schools were closed, with five shut in Cornwall.

* Gatwick, Southampton, Birmingham, Cardiff and London City Airports' runways were shut at different times, commuter train services were badly affected and major roads were closed. Heathrow Airport reported the cancellation of 84 flights today, both arrivals and departures. Flights at Southampton Airport were suspended this morning while snow was being cleared from the runway.

* For the first time this winter, snow settled in central London, although the capital's Tube and bus services were running almost normally.

* Hundreds of primary and secondary schools across South and West Wales were closed again today after heavy snowfalls overnight. Five inches of snow (12.7cm )in urban areas across Torfaen county saw a raft of school closures this morning, with more likely later. Up to 10in (25.4cm) of snow fell on higher ground, making driving hazardous or impossible.

* In Scotland, a number of roads in the Highlands were closed because of snow. A convoy system was also being operated this morning behind ploughs on the main A9 route to Inverness between Ralia and Blair Atholl after drifting snow, police said.

* Up to 2in (5cm) of snow fell in Sussex overnight, which a police spokesman said was of a "wetter type" than that seen recently. Sussex Police have had 70 incidents reported to them already this morning which are thought to have been caused by the weather, including minor road accidents and cars becoming stuck and blocking roads.

* Adrian Tink, of motoring group RAC, called for more cash to be spent on fixing potholes. "It's clear that the severe whether conditions will create thousands of new potholes," he said. "These potholes can be a serious danger for motorists and can cause extensive damage to cars. Local councils will need to work around the clock to fill them but they will require further support and funding from the Government."