Shadow chancellor Alan Johnson has launched a scathing attack on the Government’s response to the transport chaos caused by the snow, claiming people felt they had been told to “get a shovel or stay at home”.
The shadow chancellor said there were “questions to be answered” by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond over his handling of the situation.
Mr Johnson claimed salt supplies had not been delivered in time and were arriving in “dribs and drabs” as much of the country faced another day badly affected by the freezing conditions.
And he suggested that the poor weather could also have a negative effect in the economy as demand fell because people were staying indoors.
Mr Johnson highlighted the resignation of Scottish transport minister Stewart Stevenson, telling Sky News: “It is a big issue when people believe the Government have just left it for them and said ‘Get a shovel or stay at home’.
“Governing is about more than that when you hit a crisis.”
Asked if there was substance to complaints by Labour about the Government’s handling of the crisis, Mr Johnson said: “I think there is some substance in this.
“We commissioned this report by David Quarmby, chair of the RAC, and no-one has heard anything of it.
“That was specifically to look at the points that Philip Hammond is now saying we should look at again. He already has a report and nothing has emerged on that.
“Secondly the salt supplies, they were supposed to be delivered in time, this is this Government’s responsibility, not the previous government and we hear they are going to be coming in dribs and drabs right into next year. They should have been here now.
“So I think on those two areas, don’t forget the Scottish transport minister resigned over this.
“It is a false economy if you think because budgets are squeezed you will cut back on salt supplies or whatever because you damage the economy.
“This is one of the big worries for Government, what this does in terms of the economy because if people are not getting out to the shops, there is not the demand in the shops then obviously that has an effect.
“So there is something of substance here and I think there are questions to be answered by Hammond.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague rejected the criticism of the Government’s response – but said better long-term preparations might be needed if such extreme conditions were to become more regular.
“We have got higher salt stocks than at this time last year; we have got higher gas reserves than at this time last year,” he told the programme.
“So I think there was a heavy snowfall of political opportunism really in his comments.
“As my colleague the Transport Secretary has said, we have not been equipped over the last few decades in this country to cope with every aspect of severe, prolonged cold weather. We may have to look again at that if these things are to recur frequently.”
Mr Hammond defended his approach and said he was consulting with the Government’s chief scientific officer over whether major long-term investment was required.
Providing “absolute certainty” of no disruption would cost vast sums, he said, but if such extremes were to be more regular then some major improvements could be made.
“We can always learn something that will enable us to get it better the next time. My experience of life is that you never stop learning,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend.
Asked about his discussions over longer-term planning, he said: “The question I am asking him is whether we should go on assuming that an extreme weather event is something that will happen once every few years and just recognising that we really can’t invest large amounts of money preparing for it or whether it is something now that we have to assume will happen perhaps two or three times a year and when we look at the economic costs of a period of weather disruption that would change the equation and lead us to prioritise significantly more weather-related investment.”