UK/Suffolk: MP accuses energy firm bosses of ‘utter complacency’
16:17 21 January 2014
BECKY NIXON 07881 825 374
South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo has lambasted power bosses for failing to show “any expression of real concern for your customers”.
Power company chiefs are facing a grilling today from the Government’s Energy Committee over widespread cuts during the Christmas period.
But committee chairman Tim Yeo has been unimpressed. He said: “I have to say after 45 minutes the tone of this discussion and its contents has been utter complacency from all of you.
“The trade body can’t provide the most basic information on a totally predictable question.
“You have lacked any expression of real concern for your customers. It’s absolutely typical of a monopoly, particularly monopolies whose charges are not very visible to the customers who have to pay them.”
Mr Yeo warned the witnesses to “step your act up” if they wanted to “impress” the committee.
Basil Scarsella, chief executive of UK Power Networks, told MPs that the combination of the storms’ severity and their national reach meant that “tried and tested” plans struggled to cope.
He said: “We have a tried and tested system that comes into play when there’s an emergency such as that. You’re correct, we knew that there were storms. We have a methodology that estimates the damage expected on the network based on the wind speeds.
“But the wind speed and the weather forecast escalated significantly on the Sunday and went from 40-50mph winds on the Friday to 50-60mph for our area, and escalated to 70-80mph on the Sunday.
“But notwithstanding that, we managed on the Monday when it hit to have all our workforce pretty much on deck and our estimation of the damage was pretty accurate.
“What we did not estimate accurately was the duration of strong winds which resulted in significantly more severe damage.
“The other issue was that this was a national storm and it lasted over two or three days. There is a well-tested mutual aid system which enables any of us to call on our colleagues to send additional resources.
“But because of the severity of the storm and the national nature of the storm we were not able to provide additional resources to other networks or indeed receive additional resources.
“So there’s a combination of the severity of the storm and the national nature of the storm.”
More than 150,000 homes were cut off after strong winds, torrential rain and flooding caused damage to power networks, with many were left without electricity for up to five days.
Mr Yeo concluded the session by saying: “I’ve heard nothing at all this morning which reassures me that you are taking this problem seriously enough to deal with the concerns of millions of your customers.
“There is no sense of urgency in what you said about any plans to step up your capacity to respond to severe weather even though we now have quite clear warnings that extreme events are likely to take place more frequently in future.
“You have managed to make the Secretary of State look ridiculous in his claim that there is going to be a three digit number that customers can use.
“You’ve failed to demonstrate in my view adequate concern for the plight of your customers. That’s characteristic of monopolies whose activities are not very effectively scrutinised by anybody until now. And frankly if your customers had the capacity or the freedom to switch to an alternative distributor I am sure that millions of them would be doing so as we speak.
“I have to conclude that you are exploiting your privileged monopoly position and you have displayed a neglect of your customers which I personally find absolutely astonishing.
“But thank you all for coming in.”