Snowstorm slams U.K. economy

Cinemas, sporting events grind to a halt

LONDON -- The largest snowfall in the British capital in more than 15 years brought London to a standstill Monday with more than 4 million people trapped at home at an estimated cost of more than 1.2 billion pounds ($1.7 billion) a day to the U.K. economy.

Workers awoke Monday morning to more than 4 inches of snow and the radio airways abuzz with dismayed callers citing the ability of other developed nations -- such as the U.S. and Canada -- to "get on with it" while suffering worse weather.

The inability to get around the capital -- it is the first time in history that London's famous red buses have all been suspended from service -- will mean the entertainment and sports industry will be heavily hit.

Several sporting events had been canceled by the end of the morning, with horse racing meets and high-profile soccer matches all called off. While major cinemas remained open, it is likely that boxoffice this week will be hard hit with audiences staying at home.

Odeon Cinemas, the biggest chain here with more than 100 sites in the U.K., closed 14 of its top central London sites, including the U.K.'s largest movie theater, Odeon Leicester Square.

"As with other businesses in the region, Odeon will reassess the situation tomorrow morning (Feb. 3) and decide a course of actions based on the conditions then," a statement from Odeon read.

The closures are due to limited access to the locations for cinema staff and guests. Vue Entertainment, the U.K.'s third-largest theater operator declared it "business as usual" for its 600-plus screens, though one local London theater was dark because of staff shortages.

The Cinema Exhibitors Assn., which reps the interests of U.K. cinema operators, said the decision on opening and closing venues was "up to cinema operators." "Cinemas, like any other entertainment venues, will keep health and safety of their customers uppermost in their minds when judging the weather conditions and take any appropriate actions accordingly," a statement read.

London's West End theater scene also is predicted to be hit, with audiences unable to make the journey to and from the city center. Television and radio news services marched on, reporting the growing disruption unabashed.

Anecdotally, PR agencies and other small businesses were telling people to leave just after 3 p.m. to work their BlackBerries and cell phones on the hoof amid fears that staff would be unable to get home later.

With blizzards forecast for the remainder of the day, the disruption is expected to continue into Tuesday and beyond.

A spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses said the daily cost of $1.7 billion to the British economy was a "conservative" estimate that could rise to more than $7 billion by the end of the week should the weather continue as forecast.
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