Lost output and true grit

This blast of Arctic weather will not help our economy haul itself out of recession. This week our large companies that need gas to manufacture have been told to stop burning gas so the rest of us can stay warm. The government has failed to organise sufficient gas storage, as part of its general energy policy failure. Some shops have not opened, others have closed early to allow their staff to get home in slightly better conditions. Many offices have been operating on skeleton staffs. Those who have tried to carry on as normal have found it almost impossible to get parcels, letters and cheques delivered, and to get the stocks and supplies they need. Big retailers may still be counting the good news from a few better trading days around the change of the year, but things are not so good this week.

It is true some have experienced boom conditions. Sales of domestic energy will be strongly up. Specialist clothing, shovels, boots and other snow equipment are in strong demand. This will not make up for the general loss of output that has come from the collapse of the transport system. All too many employees have not reached their companies to do their jobs. Many schools have been closed for the duration of the bad weather. Those shops that do open often have empty shelves owing to a shortage of particular goods or the inability of the delivery system to get them to the stores.

Why has this happened? It has happened owing to the failure of the Highways Authority to have enough grit at its disposal, and enough vehicles to distribute it and to plough the heavy snow away from the roads. Our mad legal system has put many off clearing their own section of pavement and side road. There is no sense of urgency to get the job done, to get the system functioning. We seem unwilling to spend a bit more on salt and hiring lorries to clear the highways, whilst being willing to spend a small fortune on more fractures as people slip on the ice and snow.

We do look to government to organise the roads and railway lines. They own them and are responsible for them. If they are not open for business, nor is the rest of the economy. We can ill afford lost output. We need to work more and earn more, to start to tackle our massive debts. Instead we are having an enforced endless Christmas holiday as people linger at home, afraid to venture out. The government will be one of the big losers, as it means more revenue loss for the state on all those sales and profits forgone.

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19 Comments

  1. Ian Jones
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Be careful on this one, it doesnt look good going round attacking the Govt for something we all know only happens every 30 years.

    • Kevin Lohse
      Posted January 9, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Exactly, Ian. The event is a known hazard and a contingency plan should have been in place. There was plenty of warning, from independent forecasters to the Chinese Met Office, as far back as November, but our own Met Office was far too busy defending the indefencible to properly forecast the weather. Some loon in the met office says that this winter will be the warmest on record. How? by cherry-picking the 15 warmest days between November 1st and April 30th. and bunging them into the climate model. That's not science, it's marketing.
      However you spin it. The government bears responsibility.
      the government do have one excuse however. If you look at the jetstream records for the past month, you will find that the cold airflows started in America.

  2. Posted January 9, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Dear John

    re: "We do look to government to organise the roads and railway lines. They own them and are responsible for them".

    In principle, would you be keen to see privatisation of the roads and of rail infrastructure?

    ***

    Daniel Hannan sees in all of the snow reaction a symptom of over-reliance on the idea of big government.

    But do you think Hannan's own proposal – ""if everyone were responsible for his own patch of pavement, the disruption caused by snow would be much diminished" – which sounds like the German approach of a legal obligation of responsibility – would be an excessive 'big government' intervention, or is it something you would also support?

    Perhaps this is the sort of thing that David Cameron means when he says "We must use the state to remake society". Are you concerned this could lead to a greater emphasis on state intervention in pursuit of supposedly conservative ends.

    Reply: I have set out on this blog how I would finance new roads and involve the private sector in management of the motorway system

  3. Norman
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I have some sympathy with the councils on this one. I live in a fairly remote area (40 mile commute each way by car) and the local council in my area have done a decent job in keeping the main roads open. There's only so much they can do. One day I did have to turn back as just as I left my house a blizzard started (around 0530) and by the time I had gone 5 miles it was not possible to see the cats eyes but within a couple of hours the gritter had came and the road was passable again.

    I think that a lot of the problem is that there is simply no slack in our transportation system. Things run at the very limits, even in summer months my commuting route is an absolute nightmare in rush hour, so it's quite easy for things to go skew-whiff.

  4. Stuart Fairney
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Working on the assumption that if you wait for the government to help it will be late, poor and expensive (but riddled with self-justifying press releases) I decided to clear my road yesterday.

    You will need a domestic branch shredder and a water softener (which is supplied with large quantities of tablet salt). Take out the shredder and ignore the looks of neighbours who think you are mad. Chuck about 50kg of salt through the shredder and collect. Then spread the now finely powdered salt on the road. Watch the road clear with enormous self-satisfaction knowing you have one of the few clear estate roads in the UK. Accept drinks from the neighbours in the pub later that night.

    Note ~ this might kill you shredder but who cares, and to hell with it, let 'em sue me

    Reply: I spent some of yesterday clearing the snow from the end of my road so we can get out onto the main road.

  5. Ruth
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I live in a part of the country which gets snow more often than others and I have to say that my councils (Lancashire and Rossendale) have done a sterling job. Lancashire has kept the main roads clear throughout, and I did notice the difference when I had to venture into West Yorkshire last Sunday – road clear right up to the boundary, bad immediately after. Rochdale was also bad, I found as I had to take a long detour to get home as I couldn't be sure my car would get over the hills on the West Yorks road.

    Rossendale rolled out 4×4 vehicles to collect refuse this week (we had a missed collection last week so 2 weeks worth) and also got admin people out of its offices to help collect refuse from the many impassible side roads in this hilly area. So plaudits to them for keeping going.

    I do wish they would have more snow ploughs though, for the side roads – if they would just get some of the snow out of the way, traffic would move better and they could use less salt overall. The road out of my village will take weeks to thaw as it is now 6 inches deep in ice and compacted snow.

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    There seems a total lack of urgency to do anything. In Bolton we haven't had our bins emptied for three weeks because the vehicles can't get up the side roads – if they can't how do they think the residents or ambulances can? We were told that the refuse collectors are being used to clear the town centre. Travelling there yesterday, there was no sign of one person clearing the pavements, which were thick with snow and ice. Earlier this week I also cleared the snow from the bottom of our road which is on an incline and skidding there would send you across a main road with four lanes of traffic. There is grit bin there but you don't need me to tell you that it has been empty for weeks.

  7. Matt
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Yes – our pub car park, just before the large snowfall, was a sheet of ice, made worse by being at a slight incline.

    The pub manager had been instructed not to treat the car park at all, in case of claims. There were bins of salt sited within 50 yards.

    The pub, part of a national chain, attracts a lot of families to dine, but even the steps to the main door were coated in ice.
    This has got to be either a crazy legal system, or a crazy interpretation of the legal system.

    (I had dumped my car there on Christmas Eve and it was stuck, so I salted the lot myself, with the manager looking on nervously)

  8. David B
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    We need to know why the met office has now got the last two seasons wrong (anyone remember the record breaking summer which would see deaths from the heat). It is no good predicting a 30% chance of a bad winter while telling everyone that global warming means ever increasing average tempratutes.

    This is very important because now we see the real cost of the met office playing politics rather that proviging imparcial information that can be used for proper planning.

    • Posted January 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Did you read the excellent piece on Global Warming in the Spectator by Conrad Black? Masterly.
      Global Warming (AGW) is "Anthropogenic" so that is doesn't insult the Feminists!

  9. ChrisM
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I think the present situation shows up something more fundamental.
    The failure of the Met office to give suitable advice, when Piers Corbyn on his Weatheraction website forecast this weather six months ago. This had the knock on affect of lulling the Government and local authorities into complacency and not stocking up enough Salt.

    The reliance on too many wind turbines, if you go on this site http://www.bmreports.com/bsp/bsp_home.htm you can find out the pitiful amount of electricity that are being produced by them when we need it most.

    The failure to start building more Nuclear power station five years ago to replace the ones they know have to close plus replacing older coal fired power stations.

    The failure to invest money in the technology of Thorium based Nuclear power stations. These are much safer than conventional Nuclear power stations, less expensive to build and more efficient, without the problem of very long term storage of waste. There is also much more Thorium in the world, most of it in friendly countries like Canada and Australia (apart from the cricket!), and last but not least the total buying into the scam of Climate change being man made.
    The colder winters and poor summers are here due to the prolonged Solar minimum just as the warming in the few years before that were because of one of the largest Solar maximums for many years. This is all superimposed on the longer time warming since the end of the last mini ice age which started long before we produced much CO2.

  10. Liz
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    If we had a Conservative Government at the moment and they had failed to keep the country moving and properly supplied with fuel – or even grit – what would have been the reaction of a Labour Oppositon? They would have been attacking the Government at every opportunity lambasting them for their failures with passion and conviction..
    This Government has not just run out of grit but everything else as well; constantly presenting the Conservatives with endless open goals to attack – which they studiously ignore – with the honourable exception of this site. Why is Mr Balls more interested in getting schools to teach Mandarin or Treasury style "financial management" than making sure that every possible school is open and not hiding behind "health and safety". Why was Ed Milliband allowed to promote wind farms, (just how much power are they producing at the moment?), when he should have been challenged about the lack of gas storage and a non existent long term plan for when the coal and atomic energy power stations are shut.Why was he not asked what would be the affect on employment and recovery from the recession of cutting off gas supplies to Industry?

  11. Mark
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    It is obvious that the Met Office and the Climate Change department went out of their way to get plans for the winter drawn up on the assumption that it would be a warm one.

    National Grid even explicitly admitted this in their "winter outlook report". See page 49:
    http://www.nationalgrid.com/NR/rdonlyres/C3A81245

  12. Johnny Norfolk
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Every local authority in Germany stores enough grit/salt to get them through the whole winter. They replenish in the summer ready for the next winer. Why do we not do this. ? the labour government is more interested in slop buckets, windfarms, their party leadership and the nasty world they have created. they have no concern whatsoever for the English people.

  13. DennisA
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    A lot of headlines have said that people are gritting their teeth. This can only exacerbate the situation.

  14. alan jutson
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    My contacts tell me Wokingham Council have almost run out of salt and grit, Bracknell is not much better.

    On Thursday Morning I travelled from Wokingham to Crowthorne, from Crowthorne to Bracknell, from Bracknell to Maidenhead, and returned on exactly the same route. I am fortunate I have the use of a 4×4 Pick up which I use for business purposes, so I could get out and about with some ease. In a normal car such a journey would not have been possible as I would not have been able to get out onto a main road in the first place.

    Main "A" roads on this journey were OK'ish in Wokingham and Bracknell. In Maidenhead they were superb, even some main "B" type roads were completely clear, it was very obvious that Maidenhead had salted well (similar snowfall).

    In all areas, side roads were very dangerous for 2 wheel drive cars, if you could move them through the snow.

    In Crowthorne they had a snow plough out, but it was having difficulty clearing the road due to speed humps, it was being careful not to rip them up !!!!!!! so it could not clear the road.
    I have to say I did smile at the unforseen consequences of putting such an obstruction in the road, as it was certainly doing its job, slowing down all traffic, in all conditions.

    I have to say many businesses have not made any real effort to clear car parks or footpaths, and some of the biggest offenders have been the National chains of Supermarkets and Garages.

    Reply: I have been in regular contact with WBC. They tell me they have just had another delivery of salt and have enough to carry on doing the job. Today the pavements in Wokingham Town were better. The A321 was not brilliant and the smaller roads were very difficult

  15. Posted January 9, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Here in the Fens, we have had a constant fall of snow and the "Conservative) Council has kept the roads open consistently. AND the rubbish has been collected too!

  16. Fox in sox
    Posted January 10, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Dear John,

    we are told that some councils have several weeks supply of grit, some virtually none. The government is nationalising the stocks so they can give it to the less well prepared. Once again the prudent are being made to help the imprudent.

    Talking to a highways agency worker the other day, who are responsible for motorways, the number of "salt barns" for grit and equipment was reduced to every fourth motorway bridge from every second bridge when the contracts were tendered out. I am not against tendering out these services but rather like hospital cleaning the contracts seem very poorly negotiated, with little or no sanction possible for poor performance.

    The conservatives need to get this right if privatisation is to be a vote winner. I think your ideas on private roads had some decent ideas that would encourage performance without our current ineffective beaurocratic regulatory bodies. How would you incentivise private snow clearance for the roads?

  17. Adrian Peirson
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    In the Great scheme of Public Expenditure, how much does it cost to keep stores of Grit and Salt dotted around the country.
    A very small industry ought to have been in place yrs ago, it's task that throughout the year it tours the country topping up supplies, enough to cater for twice the worst case scenario.
    WHY are these things not in place, weather is not a new phenomena, it shouldn't even be discussed in Parliament.
    What next, are we to see debates on reminding people to breathe, to blink.

    This is Britain in the 21st Century, Weather is not New.

    Do we really live in a society where weather is discussed in our Parliament, this should have been solved Hundreds of years ago.
    Even if the most severe weather struck it should not be discussed, it should be assumed that the local communities are well traained to deal with it, in the same way that a General wouldn't have to keep tinkering with what his forces are doing in the field.
    He orders the hill taken and that's it, he knows his men are well trained enough and well equiped enough to carry out that task.
    Off course this military analogy doesn't apply in Great Britain today.
    What's more likely is the General will issue and order to take that hill and the reply would come back, 'are you kidding. they've got guns' we haven't even got enough men, let alone guns.
    The General would then have to waste his time to begin recruiting and equipping men to carry out a task that should have been automatic.

    We actually debate the weather in our Parliament in the 21st Century ?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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