Leading article: The drifting economics of British winter

Share
Related Topics

A bit of snow, goes the familiar refrain, and the country grinds to a halt. It is not like this in Moscow or Chicago where they have snow ploughs and proper contingency plans.

We British love a good moan, but how much economic sense would it make to invest in fleets of snow-clearing equipment? When days of serious snow hit London last year the mayor, Boris Johnson, said it did not necessarily make sense to make a major investment in snow-ploughs if they were only used once every two decades. Although the capital is still relatively snow-lite, this is not true of most of the country, and with this year's early snow, the mayor's notion of "once every two decades" is starting to look a little unrealistic.

With global warming we can expect "freak" weather to become more normal. But when does the cost-benefit analysis show that a major shift in thinking is required? The main argument is always that snow hits the overall economy. If 10 per cent of the nation's 30 million workforce is snowed in, that costs Britain £600m a day. Not only is direct output lost but they don't buy coffee, sandwiches and newspapers on their way to work.

But that is true only up to a point. Money not spent today doesn't disappear like snow when the thaw comes. Some of the work we can't do today we simply do tomorrow. And what we can't buy today often gets bought later in the month. Likewise, though there are fixed costs in snow-clearing – more ploughs, gritters and salt – some of the extra cost, in wages for example, returns to the economy in taxes and spending. And very cold weather boosts the profits of power companies.

Moreover, increasing numbers of people can work remotely. Nor are the costs constant. Employers' organisations will testify that the first day of snow is always the worst. After that people find ways to get back into work, though there can be longer-term problems with childcare when schools stay shut. Having said that, councils that have sought to cut public spending by reducing their stocks of salt and grit – relying on just-in-time deliveries for replenishment – are indulging in a fool's economising. That is where the rethinking needs to be done.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine