Could we be better prepared? - Veterinary Practice
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Could we be better prepared?

​It could be said that Britain loves a crisis. Additionally, we have maligned the Aussies for years for describing us as whingeing Poms but, in truth, there’s nothing we like so much as a good moan.

It could be said that Britain loves a crisis. Additionally, we have maligned the Aussies for years for describing us as whingeing Poms but, in truth, there’s nothing we like so much as a good moan.

It’s now part of our national vocabulary to accord train delays to “the wrong type of leaves” on the line and the announcement that the recent, largely unexpected snowfall (we only had six days warning) has done what the Luftwaffe had failed to do, i.e. bring London’s bus network to a complete stop, will have sent us into paroxysms of secret joy.

It is true that, every year, any bad weather seems to bring the country to its knees and generations of Britons have asked the same rhetorical question, “Why can we not be better prepared?” The answer would appear to be straightforward, but multifaceted.

Part of the capital’s collapse of public transport was due to Transport for London (TfL) taking a cautious approach. Despite some councils spreading hundreds of tonnes of salt, around 95% of the full length of bus routes was not treated.

When buses started to skid, TfL adopted the adage that discretion was the better part of valour and kept many of the buses indoors despite the fact that most drivers had turned up for work.

Frozen points

TfL did, subsequently, admit that it should have been possible to run a shortened service on those roads which it knew had been treated but, by this time, most of the capital’s workforce had gone home to sit around a cupasoup, watching the mayhem on TV.

On the tube, all the depots and more than half of the 250 mile network is above ground and many trains were unable to enter service when the points were frozen. On the trains, however, despite the entire network being above ground, the main problem was that the signalmen and drivers could not, or did not, get to work, especially in Kent and Sussex.

Not all the problems were operational, however, as TfL’s management had taken the view that anticipating snow with a fleet of snowploughs was simply too expensive and that snowchains would be quite a lot of effort to fit and might damage the roads. Would we be surprised to learn that on London Underground, hundreds of sets of points had frozen but only the busiest junctions have points heaters because of cost savings?

The Times reported that “without proper investment in better contingency measures, passengers will remain at the mercy of the transport industry’s increasingly riskaverse culture”. While that is undoubtedly true, isn’t there another reason why we’re increasingly uncompetitive in today’s new world?

Don’t bother…

If it’s true that most schools in affected areas were closed, do we not risk educating tomorrow’s generation that when the snowflakes fall, no one has to bother to do anything?

Apparently, in the worst affected areas, one in five workers unilaterally decided to take the day off work as a “snow-day” and where workers did struggle in to work, four out of five arrived late – understandably – but most were given permission to leave work at lunchtime.

“We’re not in Russia here,” a spokesman for TfL was quoted. “We don’t have an infrastructure built for constant snow.” Yet, in Moscow, trains, buses and airports all operate and the underground appears to function with none of the frozen points or electrical problems that cause the problems for our British services.

They do have more snow in Moscow and they do have 2,500 snowploughs and a fleet of tractors to scoop up the snow and dump it outside the city. They also have 50,000 workers to keep Moscow’s roads passable and to keep the streets swept and free from snow and ice.

In Canada, where they also have a lot more snow, hardy workers ski into work and anyone deciding to take a “snow-day” in Ottawa is expected to take it from annual leave. In Chicago, where they also get rather more snow than we do – an average of 38 inches per year – the last time the schools system was shut down because of snow was in 1999.

In the UK, on 2nd February, more than 13,000 schools were closed, there were 1,100 miles of traffic jams around the country and industry put the cost of the day’s disruption at more than £3 billion.

It’s all very well being risk-averse but glorying in the spirit of the blitz is a relic from a previous age and is no longer an adequate preparation for the world ahead of us.

Why not require the banks, next time we bail them out, to lend TfL (and every other transport business in the UK) the money needed for proper investment in jobs, equipment and maintenance that would allow us all to get to work, to improve our productivity and to stop our children seeing weekday snowfall as an extension of Neverland?

Someone should make that point to our PM but I think he missed the whole thing, what with being in Davos, in the snow.

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