'Buckling' Britain warned: be ready for more snow

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The Independent Online

Questions were asked today about how Britain copes with wintry weather as disruption continued and forecasters warned of more snow.

Hundreds of schools remained closed today after the snow storms, which brought parts of the south of England to a standstill, headed north.

Birmingham City Council closed all its schools today leaving parents fuming.

Mother-of-two Vanessa McManus, 33, an office manager from Four Oaks, Birmingham, said: "I feel like people at work might think I am using my children as an excuse not to go in. But I have no choice, if the school is closed I can't go to work."

School closures added to problems for working parents, many of whom also faced difficult journeys to work due to icy roads and disrupted public transport.

An estimated one in five workers took yesterday off because of weather-related transport or childcare problems.

Stephen Alambritis, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said the economy could lose as much £3.5 billion this week as a result of the disruption and added: "One of the world's biggest economies should not be grinding to a halt."

London, which came to a virtual standstill yesterday as buses were cancelled and train and tube services were severely disrupted, began to recover today.

After a night when the lowest recorded temperature was minus 10.1C (13.8F) in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, the south gradually began to thaw, and London's mayor Boris Johnson congratulated the "heroic efforts" that got the city's buses running again.

But further disruption is likely with another wave of snow expected to sweep from south to north through tomorrow night and Thursday.

Tiffany Curnick, a forecaster with MeteoGroup UK, the weather division of the Press Association, said there will be some flakes in the south but nothing like the blanket of snow which delighted children woke up to on Monday.

She said the Midlands will be worst hit, with as much as 20cm of snow expected on high ground.

The Met Office has warned of icy roads tomorrow in south west England, South Wales and the southern part of Scotland.

Today Schools Secretary Ed Balls said any inconvenience to parents as a result of school closures was "really regrettable".

"I have a huge amount of understanding for those parents for whom life has been difficult, but in the end these decisions are made by the heads of our local authorities, they have to make the right decision often in difficult circumstances, and I think they have been doing it right," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

He said claims that schools had been forced to close because of health and safety laws were "nonsense".

Margaret Morrissey, of the Parents Outloud campaign group, warned that children given the day off might grow into working adults who think "when things get difficult you should just stay at home and have fun".

Schools were closed in Bradford, Bristol, Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, Essex, London, Devon, Cornwall, Gloucester, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Wales and the Borders today.

David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, backed the assertion that the disruption had cost British business "a lot of money" and called for more planning to prepare for freak weather.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We shouldn't just buckle to it."

And Transport for London commissioner Peter Hendy told the same programme that local authorities had done all they could to cope with the area's worst snowfall for 18 years "but it just wasn't enough for the circumstances".

The chief executive of the Local Government Association, John Ransford, admitted he shared people's frustration but told the Today programme "on occasions this will happen".

Two climbers who fell to their deaths on a treacherous part of Mount Snowdon, and whose bodies were discovered yesterday morning, were today identified as brothers James and Christopher McCallion.

They had been reported missing by family members on Sunday after failing to return home to Bristol.

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