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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 20:14 GMT
Suppliers' storm reaction 'pathetic'
Power lines
Thousands are still without power following the storms
The reaction of energy companies to last weekend's storms has been "pathetic", according to the government's energy minister.

Brian Wilson said he was frustrated to hear thousands of customers were still without power, with many unable to even register their complaints due to overloaded phone switchboards.

Brian Wilson, Energy minister
Wilson: Report on storms due next month

He announced that energy consultants British Power International (BPI) would carry out an investigation into the electricity industry's performance after the storms.

Seven people died as high winds ripped down trees and power lines, causing travel chaos and disruption to electricity supplies last weekend.

Mr Wilson said there were "major problems" with the way the power companies had handled the aftermath of the devastation.

BPI will begin work next week and is due to deliver its report to Mr Wilson next month.

Mr Wilson said: "As well as examining the robustness of the network, I have asked them to assess how well the electricity companies performed after the storm, how they responded to weather warnings, and how their staff, resources and systems reacted."

Candle blaze

Earlier, Mr Wilson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was unacceptable that, after five days, there were still people without power.

"I regard that as pathetic," he said.

About 8,000 properties across the UK are still without electricity, mostly in East Anglia, although transport services have slowly begun to return to normal.


The winds we had on Sunday were at times equal to those we had in 1987

24seven spokesman

In Oxfordshire, firefighters believe a blaze near Chipping Norton was started by candles which were being used because the house had been without power since last weekend's storms.

Fire crews from three counties were called - but the occupants managed to escape.

Power firm 24seven, which has been severely criticised for its failure to reconnect customers, said the number of properties without power should be significantly reduced by Saturday and virtually all customers should be reconnected by the end of Sunday.

A spokesman for the company, which operates in East Anglia and London, said: "I think we have performed all right, although I know people probably won't agree with that, especially if they have been off since Sunday.

"The winds we had on Sunday were at times equal to those we had in 1987. Then it took two, sometimes three weeks to get power fully restored."

Despite ordering a review of the companies, Mr Wilson has said he would not consider introducing a blanket compensation scheme for those affected.

But he said there was clearly a case for people who had been without power for a number of days and urged them to claim.

Sympathy

Power suppliers including Aquila Networks and Manweb-Scottish Power have courted controversy by saying they will not pay compensation to all customers losing power because the storms were an "exceptional occurrence".

If energy companies refuse to pay compensation, customers can still apply for damages, consumer watchdog Energywatch said.

Industry regulator Ofgem then makes a judgement on a case-by-case basis.

Energywatch said customers should be entitled to 50 compensation from companies once they have been without power for 18 hours.

For each 12-hour period they remain without power after that, they can claim a further 25.

Caroline Bootson, communications director for Aquila, told the Today programme paying millions in compensation would see the firm miss its cost reduction targets, resulting in further penalties from industry regulators.

She added: "That is the bigger picture we have been looking at, although we are certainly not decrying those people impacted by the power losses.

"We are sympathising with that situation."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jenny Scott
"Repairs are under way but not fast enough"
Energy minister Brian Wilson
"It is unacceptable that, after five days, there are still people without power"
See also:

01 Nov 02 | Business
01 Nov 02 | UK
31 Oct 02 | UK
31 Oct 02 | England
31 Oct 02 | Europe
28 Oct 02 | Business
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