Sunday, 19 December 2010

Who is to blame for the weather?

It is sometimes said that British voters expect American levels of taxation and Scandinavian levels of public service. Now transport secretary Phillip Hammond, who wasn't able to take the job he prepared for as chief secretary of the treasurer, is getting blamed for the bad weather. As Rachel on Radio 5 commented this morning, he can hardly ring up God and ask him to change it.

More seriously, he is getting blamed for the failure to prepare for the bad weather. People ask why, say, Zurich or Stockholm airports are able to keep open in similar weather. It's because they can expect such weather two or three months of the year and can invest in expensive capital equipment to deal with it.

Sensibly enough, Mr Hammond has asked the chief scientist to give a view on whether the bad weather of the last three winters represents a change in the pattern. This is not an easy thing to give a view on as climate and weather are affected by so many variables. We could easily have a mild winter next year and then any new equipment could stand idle.

If we do invest more in winter transport infrastructure, it will have to come from cuts elsewhere in the depleted transport budget.

What I would argue is that some public transport services give up too easily. I live on an A road and there is a bus service in the day time every eight minutes or so. Within an hour or so of the snow starting to fall yesterday, the bus service was withdrawn.

The road was still open, albeit that traffic was having to move more slowly than usual. It would not have been possible to operate the normal timetable. But would it have been possble to improvise a reduced skeleton service? One would think so. But at the first sign of bad weather the service is withdrawn, no doubt on health and safety grounds.

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