Sean O'Grady: Cold snap will hit economic growth, but add to our wellbeing

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Even as things stand, the cost to the economy of the cold weather will run into many billions. Last winter's exceptional conditions probably lost the nation around £3bn – say £50 for each citizen.

But if, as the Independent Petrol Retailers Association warns, petrol stations start running out of fuel, the effects could be much greater, given that so much of the UK's distribution of food and goods relies on road transport. Insurers RSA are talking about a £6bn hit to the economy and it could be more, hindering Britain's recovery.

The big losers are haulage and transport, the shops, restaurants, bars and cinemas. Retail "footfall" is 10 per cent down on last year, says specialist retail consultant CB Richard Ellis. The building trade also faces another bleak winter, as does everyone connected with the property market.

Meanwhile energy companies will sell record amounts of gas and electricity, and car repairers will have plenty of dings to fix. Pizza and curry deliveries might also tick up.

The cold snap might also give a boost to two longer term social trends – working from home and online shopping. Both are better for the environment, and add to the national "general wellbeing" which the Prime Minister is so keen to achieve.

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