SMALL firms have been hit particularly hard by the fall-out from the recent cold weather, and their leaders are calling for a national conference to decide how to limit future damage. Following weeks of bad weather which is estimated to have cost the UK e

SMALL firms have been hit particularly hard by the fall-out from the recent cold weather, and their leaders are calling for a national conference to decide how to limit future damage.

Following weeks of bad weather which is estimated to have cost the UK economy at least £600m a day, with staff in some areas of the country unable to make it into work, the FSB wants to see discussion between local authorities, transport and salt mining companies, schools and the business community, among others, to find solutions to deal with adverse weather.

In a new policy paper on business continuity, entitled 'Let's Keep Britain Moving', the FSB states that many small businesses were forced to close, lost business, or saw supplies dwindle because of the snow, with many roads left completely impassable. School closures also meant many parents had to stay at home to look after children, thereby missing further days at work.

The FSB argues the authorities did not learn from the lessons of last February's snowfall quickly enough and could have prepared better for the recent spate of bad weather.

The FSB is calling for more support for the country's 4.8m small businesses, which are among the hardest-hit by increasingly erratic weather conditions and other emergencies, because they find it harder to put contingency plans in place. The federation proposes an emergency grant scheme for badly-affected small companies.

Huntingdonshire FSB chairman Malcolm Lyons said: "Small businesses have been particularly hard hit during the recent bad weather, with staff unable to make it to work because of school closures and snow-bound roads.

"We need to be better prepared with more salt stocks for roads and better guidance for head teachers on when to close schools, to prevent staff from missing days of work and bringing the country - and the economy - to a standstill," he added.

"Small businesses have shown how resilient and resourceful they are by trying to put in place plans for flexible working and by allowing staff to work from home. It is the small businesses that come to the aid of local communities in difficult times.

"However, following recent events, it is time we had a national civil contingencies conference, bringing together all relevant parties, and including the business perspective, on emergencies such as these. It is time the economy stopped coming to a halt during these emergencies

In a separate move, the FSB, which says small firms will be the bedrock of economic recovery, is urging the Government to scrap the default retirement age.

Mr Lyons said: "Many small business owners have no intention of putting in place a blanket policy to retire their staff at 65 - they understand the valuable contribution and skills that older workers bring to the business. In a recent FSB survey, 60 per cent of respondents employed staff over 50 years old and a quarter employed staff who are over 65, showing that small firms are flexible employers.

"Nearly 80 per cent of small firms responding to our survey said they did not use the default retirement age for their staff, and 76 per cent believed that retirement should be based on a mutual decision between the employee and employer.