In the UK, Snow Brings Things to a Halt

If you're expecting any urgent “just in time” deliveries of materials from suppliers in the South of England -- actually pretty much anywhere in England -- I hope your supply chain risk processes are robust and ready to go! And as for that big meeting in London on Friday; forget it. We woke up today to 9 inches of snow, the most I've seen in the South of England in my adult life. Given that UK airports and most of our infrastructure tends to close given an inch or two, I think we can predict not much will be happening in much of the UK today, and the freeze is forecast to continue for some time.

Motorists have been stuck in their cars all night on major roads just a few miles out of London. All local schools are closed, buses not running. Much of Northern Europe is in a similar position, although countries that are used to this are better prepared than England; we are really not very good at this. It is basically a risk management decision for our local administrations (counties, districts); do they invest in snow clearing equipment that will only be used for a couple of days every five years or so? Their answer tends to be "no."

As well as supply chain disruption, this might be the last straw for the UK's Labour Government. We will have an election sometime between March and June, and the incumbent government is hoping to be able to talk about economic recovery by the time of the campaign. But the UK is being slow to emerge from recession; and the GDP growth figures are so finely balanced (with a 0.2% contraction in July-Sept 09) that a couple of weeks of reduced production, delayed construction projects and so on might just make the difference between the current quarter being slightly negative and slightly positive. And when that quarterly GDP number is announced at the end of April, it could change the mood of the election campaign, and the electorate's views, quite dramatically. (The coldest winter for 30 years also makes the current focus on global warming look somewhat less significant, which probably doesn't help Gordon Brown either.)

After the Conservative Party were surprisingly re-elected in 1992, the biggest selling UK newspaper, the Sun, who had vigorously attacked Labour throughout the campaign, published a famous headline; "It's The Sun Wot Won It" * Perhaps in May or June this year we will see the victorious Conservative Party announcing ; "It's The Snow Wot Won It".

(* I apologise for the appalling grammar...)

--Peter Smith

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