Britain seems to be toatlly unprepared for any level of extreme weather, and it seems year on year we have the same excuse "we are not used to this in our country so we don't know what to do when it happens.". I have an answer to that, "bollocks".
I am not that old, okay I am starting to get older, but not that old. The only really severe snap I can recall aside from this current one was in the early 1980s, and yes I can recall some levels of chaos then. I don't however recall every pavement being iced to buggery and every train stopping, also schools (mostly the newer schools) losing their heating control. Certainly there was a level of chaos but it was meidated by a few other measures.
Firstly there used to be yellow grit boxes almost everywhere. The house I was born and raised in was near a junction. There was a grit box on that junction and one on the corner of the street at the other end of the road. They were everywhere, now the only place you see them is in Welsh valleys or in Scotland (who of course get more spells of severe weather). These grit boxes were for the use of everyday people to aid them in weather such as this. They would often sit unused (except as bins/ashtrays) for years. But boy could we use them on every street now! I have no idea why they disappeared:
Cost: really how much would it cost to leave them there for years? A lot less than the cost of the current situation I'd guess.
Vandalism: Make them out of steel then and I don't think grit burns.
Complacency: Ah the British disease.
Public transport: if we can call it that since it is by majority privately screwed-up, has suffered embarrassing displays of fail. A train service was rescued by a, get this, replica steam train. So a design that was -ancient- beat the modern super-trains we have been forced to subsidise. Bus services cancelled. So why don't they have snow-chains for the tyres. I clearly recall those being used, is there a law or ruling that prevents them now? Did all the bus services retire their chains? Or did they simply not restock and lay aside contingency plans for situations like this?
Schools. Well this is an easy one. The high school I went to didn't close in the cold snap in the 80s because it had three janitors. A senior and two junior janitors. One of whom was on the night shift so kept the heating/boilers going at night to keep the school warmn and to prevent failed systems. They also gritted pathys/playgrounds. I remember playing rugby on a pitch that had two feet of snow as a border where it had been cleared for us (we helped as part of our lesson). But schools don't have those anymore, they have automated systems that seem to fail in any adverse clime, and security guards who patrol and don't really care about what happens when they go off shift (they are neither paid for that, nor trained for that – this is not blaming them, they get enough stick).
The final element in all this is the Litigation Factor. I am reliably informed (though don't take this as read IANAL) that the council often don't grit the pavements for fear of litigation. If you slip on an un-gritted pavement it is an accident, but, if the council take some action that you then deemed to have 'failed' you and allowed you to slip then you can potentially sue. The same is said for schools. If the school clears the pavements and opens they take responsibility. If you slipped thirty years ago you'd get a trip to the hospital, the school would apologise and caution other children to be careful and that would be it, now there is the worry that the "Accident -Shite-Line" will be called in by parents seeking reparation.
If you've had an accident, no matter whose fault it is, you can f*ck someone in a court room and make us all some money – turn a natural chance occurance into someone else's failure and cost.
Perhaps we deserve this and I should stop bitching…