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Power Companies (Bad Weather Preparedness)

Volume 573: debated on Thursday 16 January 2014

3. What recent discussions he has had with power companies on their preparedness to deal with bad weather events. (901997)

Let me begin by saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Paul Goggins as we all celebrate his life and superb contribution on his funeral day.

I met the distribution network operators and key industry players on 8 January to discuss the power cuts over the Christmas period. I have organised a review of what worked and what did not, and I am due to receive a report before the end of March.

While there are clearly lessons to be learned, especially in regard to communications with customers, I want to record again my thanks to the thousands of people who worked so hard over their Christmases, mostly in difficult circumstances, to look after and reconnect those who were affected by severe storms and flooding.

Who is responsible for ensuring that power companies are sufficiently prepared for bad weather, and have enough staff to be able to deal with both the weather and any power cuts that may result from it? Is that his Department‘s job, or is it Ofgem’s?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Ofgem regulates the distribution network operators to ensure that they perform adequately, but the whole industry does a huge amount of work—along with Ofgem and my Department—to ensure that proper preparations are made. Between 24 and 28 December, unprecedented severe weather affected all parts of the country, and it was not possible to make preparations that rely on mutual aid because all the distribution network operators needed their staff. We certainly have lessons to learn from that unprecedented set of events.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul Goggins and his family today.

In 2007, when we experienced severe surface water flooding, there was an audit of all the critical infrastructure, and a decision was made to move those who were most vulnerable to flooding to higher ground. Would another such audit be timely following the unprecedented flooding that occurred over the Christmas period?

If an audit is recommended in the review that I have instigated, we will of course proceed with it. I must stress, however, that more than 750,000 homes lost power between 24 and 28 December, and 93% of them were reconnected within 24 hours. I do not, of course, underestimate the difficulties experienced by people whose Christmases were ruined and who lost power for more than 48 hours—15,000 houses were affected in that way—but I think that we should see them in proportion. The industry did a very good job, and its preparedness has greatly improved in recent years.

Paul Goggins used to sit next to me in the Chamber, and the difference between us when we used to make trouble on a Thursday was that he was nicer than me. He was a true Christian, whereas I am more the curmudgeonly type, but I am thinking of him today.

I worry about this question. I think that it should be seen in context. Is the new Minister for Portsmouth on side? Is he aware that flooding and the change in our weather patterns have something to do with climate change? Has he looked at the BP long-term survey of energy use, which was published this morning and which points to a very changed world market? That will also have an impact on our weather.

I do not think the hon. Gentleman is curmudgeonly at all, and I welcome his question. I think it is important to think about whether events are connected to climate change. As he will know, climate change scientists are reluctant on this because the evidence does not suggest that particular weather events are connected with climate change, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fifth annual report last year showed that there is increasing concern because both the theory and practice of climate change analysis suggests there are likely to be more severe weather events if we do not tackle it.