Report outlines failings during January storms

“It’s unacceptable that any community in the 21st century should be without power for three days.” So said Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid, who visited Rothesay on Monday to launch a report by the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee into the lessons to be learned from January’s storms.

Mr Reid was joined by the committee’s chair Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South West, for the launch of the report – though no-one from the electricity companies, Argyll and Bute Council or the public attended the event at the Pavilion.

Mr Reid told The Buteman, the only representative at Monday’s launch: “The storms in January were bad throughout Argyll and Bute but Bute was hit very hard and suffered for three days.

“Particularly now in the modern world, we see how much we’ve come to rely on electricity, and although it was wonderful to see how the community rallied around, it’s still unacceptable for any community in the 21st century to have been left without power for three days.”

The report also makes the startling revelation that the Highlands and Islands is the only part of the UK where customers are not automatically entitled to compensation if the quality of service falls below a certain standard – due, according to Scottish Hydro Electric Power Distribution, to “the low population density, topological challenges and climactic conditions”.

Though the report does not recommend the same standards apply in the Highlands and Islands to the rest of the country, it suggests that Ofgem should introduce ‘best practice guidelines’ for the area, setting out minimum levels of service and corresponding levels of compensation.

The report recommends that Ofgem consider increasing compensation to more realistic levels, stating that the committee does not believe consumers are adequately compensated by consumers for the results of power cuts.

“SSE did voluntarily offer compensation for those who went without power for 48 hours,” Mr Reid admitted.

“However the caveat on that was that it had to be for 48 hours continuously. In some instances, power only returned for a matter of minutes before cutting out again – the compensation rules should be altered with this in mind.

“Also, given the amount of perishable items people keep in their fridge etc, £75 compensation isn’t enough, which is why we’ve recommended that the levels should be increased to reflect this.”

A sub-sea transmission line has been proposed to run from Kintyre peninsula to Hunterston in Ayrshire, running close to the island. The report suggests that if a distribution line to serve Bute could be linked to this transmission line, then there would be no need to supply Bute from the existing long overhead lines.

Mr Reid said: “It’d be a complete scandal if, when this cable is laid, it is not connected to the island directly.”

The report goes on to recommend that Ofgem, the electricity industry watchdog, should report to the committee how well transmission and distribution network operators are working together, to ensure that when new transmission lines are constructed, distribution lines are linked at points to bypass the existing vulnerable lines to take electricity to the communities which suffered the most during recent storms.

Mr Davidson said the committee’s report will be sent to the government, and both Ofgem and SSE will be monitored to ensure that action is taken on the recommendations. A progress report will be given in a year’s time.

* A small number of hard copies of the SAC report can be picked up at The Buteman’s office.