Leader: Extreme weather strategy can’t ignore the economy

A lone lorry braves the M876, near Falkirk. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
A lone lorry braves the M876, near Falkirk. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA
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Early estimates on the cost of the winter shutdown are up to £500 million, we report today. Few will be surprised by this figure and some will imagine it could be much more.

Who can forget the images of empty main roads across the nation after the Scottish Government designated the so-called Beast from the East as a Red Alert. And in our towns and cities businesses remained closed as most staff adhered to the no-travel warnings.

Ministers followed this up by telling Scots not to travel unless it was absolutely essential.

Many voters will support this tactic. It limits the risk to life and limb and no one wants to be stuck in their vehicle for hours behind a jackknifed lorry. And, of course, some will have welcomed a few days off work.

So, this strategy will please many. And it limits the political risks to the Scottish Government. Road chaos on the M80? An indignant Nicola Sturgeon can say: we told you not to travel.

The message was clearer than that from 2009/10 when SNP transport minister Stewart Stevenson was forced to resign after widespread transport disruption.

But this isn’t the full story.

Risks to life and limb exist year-round. It’s the government’s job to find the right balance between allowing people to go about their business and ensuring public safety.

The question some are asking is can Scotland afford to shut down for three days because of snow? This may be a rare occurrence – perhaps once every nine or ten years. But it could also happen again next year.

A Red Alert no travel warning is an easy to understand solution for the public. But for businesses – which stand to lose vital revenue – this is too simplistic. A better balance needs to be struck to allow Scotland to keep moving. It’s not only the government’s responsibility to help keep us safe, but also to ensure the economy can function.

Scotland’s economy is struggling. For the third quarter of 2017 GDP grew by 0.2 per cent compared with a 0.4 per cent increase recorded across the UK as a whole.

A £500 million dent in the economy is a major blow. We cannot afford to hide when the snow hits again.