Cold weather has already cost the economy £4.8bn

The cold snap hitting the UK has so far cost the economy £4.8bn and the forecast snow could add a further £8.4bn, according to insurance group RSA.

With only nine shopping days left before Christmas and the Christmas party season already here, the retail, travel and the leisure industries are set to be the worst affected during peak season, the insurer warned.

Given the return of snow and ice this week, the economic consequences of the weather look set to last into the New Year, RSA said. During the early December snow fall, major regional airports, including London City and Gatwick, were closed, with passengers stranded at home and abroad for up to two days. More than 24,000 breakdowns were reported in a single day and over 100 motorists were stranded overnight in their cars in South Yorkshire.

During the snow fall in January this year, businesses were heavily affected as 44 per cent of workers were unable to get to work.

David Greaves, director at RSA, said the bad weather this week couldn't come at a worse time for some businesses. "Small businesses in particular could be hardest hit by long-term poor weather conditions," he said. "Despite showing initial resilience earlier this year, many smaller businesses may not be in a position to cope with a sustained loss of income caused by a new fall of snow."