THE extreme weather will cost British industry millions of pounds as workers were told to stay at home rather than attempt a tortuous journey to the office.

According to a snapshot survey by employment law firm Peninsula, more than one in five people took the day off work on February 2 as a result of heavy snowfall.

The survey of more than 300 employers found of those who attempted to get to the office, four out of five were late arriving because of the travel chaos.

Many rail firms advised passengers not to travel unless absolutely necessary, while London’s six million bus users were left stranded when all services were suspended amid the capital’s worst snowfall for 20 years.

The London Stock Exchange said trading activity had fallen to levels not normally seen except on traditionally quiet days, such as Christmas Eve.

David Buik, of BGC Partners, said: “With 15cm of snow on the ground, it is hardly surprising that markets are only running at 50 per cent capacity at best. At 9.10am, only 120 million shares had changed hands.”

Shops and businesses were also hit, with fears mounting over the financial cost.

The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) warned that previous events that crippled transport cost businesses millions of pounds.

It said the one-day tube strike in 2007 cost London £48 million.

Dr Helen Hill, director of policy and public affairs at the LCCI said: “We know that a one-day closure of the Tube alone can cost the capital up to £48 million in lost productivity, so with most of London’s transport infrastructure down, the costs could be similarly high.

But the impact is likely to be felt all over Britain.

Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, said the snow could cause disruption across most areas of the economy, including the manufacturing and service industries.

“But any disruption to business is the very last thing that the UK economy needs in its current extremely weak state.”

Based on the estimation that a fifth of the workforce had been unable to make it into work, The Federation of Small Businesses said the cost of the bad weather to the UK economy was £1.2 billion.

The FSB estimated that contracts would be stalled, cheques not banked and purchases of items such as sandwiches, confectionery and other goods and products would suffer as a result of people staying at home.

The FSB called for a wide-ranging debate on the UK’s infrastructure and the country’s ability to respond to bad weather.

Rebecca Clake, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said more people had been able to work from home because of advances in technology.

“Companies that have put in place the technology and practices to allow their people to work flexibly in normal times can reap the rewards today, as thousands of people log on from their living rooms and bedrooms to keep the knowledge economy ticking over.

“Even those employees stuck at home without access to their desks and work emails may be able to get on to some of those ‘when I have a spare moment’ tasks. This could be a kind of weather-enforced opportunity for employees to innovate.”