Skip to content

Snowpocalypse now?

Updated Wednesday 14th December 2011

Hoorah, it’s snowing in the UK again! Time to have a snowball fight, build a snowman and have a few unplanned days off school and work. But what about the economy? The OU's Helen Roby explains

Coffee in snow Creative commons image Icon By Jon Curnow via Flickr under Creative Commons license under Creative-Commons license Coffee and shops abandoned during snowpocalypse The heavy snowfalls of the past couple of winters cost the UK economy £280 million per day according to the Transport Secretary in 2011, Philip Hammond. Royal Sun Alliance in 2010 put the figure closer to £1.2 billion per day. The Federation for Small Business (FSB) estimated that 20 per cent, or 6.4 million staff, were unable to get to work - time they may not have been entitled to be paid for.

Small businesses are usually hit worst. Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight suggested that small businesses were likely to be more seriously affected as they have less staffing capacity to absorb the unplanned absence. Cash flow could be hit by delayed payments, which in the current tightening of the economy could cause businesses to fail.

However, it's not all bad news. Where some businesses like retail and construction are hit hard, the energy sector does well as we all try to keep warm; sales of warm clothing and footwear increase and there is additional spending on repairs as a result of accidents or structural damage. Although production may be down, overall GDP may not be that greatly affected. A survey of FTSE 100 companies showed that although 27 per cent reported short term negative impacts, in the long term they did not believe these negative impacts would be sustained. Interestingly, of the 73 per cent of these firms whose staff were absent, 39 per cent said that it did not matter as they were able to work remotely. 

So what is the true cost to the economy? For some businesses, staff can work remotely or altered working hours is an option. But this isn’t the case for all. Using the internet to work or shop is certainly one way to keep business moving and maintain retail sales. Yet in the run up to Christmas in 2010, retailers such as John Lewis had to bring forward their cut-off date for Christmas orders to clear the delivery backlog. So could the weather disruption be a ‘window of opportunity’ to implement new practices, not just during the disruption, but throughout the year? But what do you do if your trade can’t be run remotely? What policies and practice do you put in place to mitigate the effects of the weather?

These are some of the questions being asked in the Disruption project, a three-year project taking a fresh new look at people’s mobility, including their travel and use of computers, mobile phones and so on. The team are interested to hear your opinions and experiences during this time. In particular, they are keen to learn what practices you are adapting or abandoning due to the weather disruption, and once forced by the weather to adapt, what if any of these changes you will adopt permanently. 

The Disruption project involves seven universities including the Open University and is funded by the RCUK Energy Programme. The project looks at how travel practices are formed and directed by underlying societal factors. We argue that people’s travel behaviour is less fixed and routine than it is often considered to be. The project looks at the way people’s lives are frequently disrupted by a whole range of possible events, from family illnesses to volcanic ash clouds or snow. The insights that these disruptions provide can help reveal the kinds of changes, to transport and other policy sectors such as health, education and business that are needed to inspire and facilitate a shift to lower carbon travel. For more information please visit the Disruption website or contact Dr Helen Roby.  

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Different types of business Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Ant Clausen/Shutterstock.com free course icon Level 1 icon

Money & Business 

Different types of business

A small grocery store run by one person and perhaps their family must pose quite different challenges from a multinational corporation with operations in many different countries. This free course introduces different types of business, depending on industry sector, size and type of ownership and discusses some of the ways in which businesses differ from each other.

Free course
3 hrs
William Chase on breaking through with brands Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC video icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

William Chase on breaking through with brands

William Chase has some experience of establishing a new player in a market dominated by big players...

Video
5 mins
Is flexibility the mother of invention? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Photos.com article icon

Money & Business 

Is flexibility the mother of invention?

Enterprising mums are choosing to leave employment behind and start their own business. Is flexibility the mother of invention?

Article
Guide to diagrams Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license activity icon

Money & Business 

Guide to diagrams

Diagrams allow us to think in new ways and approach problems differently. Learn five invaluable diagramming techniques with this video series and quiz

Activity
The new politics of banking Creative commons image Icon Peter Thwaite under CC-BY-SA licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

Money & Business 

The new politics of banking

From ‘light touch’ to ‘durable’: we look at the new politics of banking

Article
Rural entrepreneurship in Wales free course icon Level 1 icon

Money & Business 

Rural entrepreneurship in Wales

What are the important issues to consider when starting up or running a small business in a rural environment? This free course, Rural entrepreneurship in Wales, will introduce you to some concepts and models that will help you work out what you want to do with your business idea and to consider the impact of living in a rural location.

Free course
30 hrs

Money & Business 

Organisations and management accounting

This free course, Organisations and management accounting, examines the nature of organisations, specifically their objectives and structure. Organisational objectives and structure determine management functions and responsibilities within the organisation.

Free course
12 hrs
Crimbo shopping in your pyjamas Creative commons image Icon By Patrick Gage via Flickr under Creative Commons license under Creative-Commons license article icon

Money & Business 

Crimbo shopping in your pyjamas

This Christmas, we have swapped the bustle of late night shopping for ordering online in our pyjamas and slippers. But what does it mean for the future of the High Street?

Article
Taking part in the voluntary sector video icon

Money & Business 

Taking part in the voluntary sector

This course is for people who are interested in being involved or progressing in the voluntary sector.

Video