I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I join him in sending my condolences to the families of the victims who tragically died during Storm Eunice, and I express my sympathy to all those who have been affected by the storms. Many families have endured real hardship in these past few days, being without power for an extended period. I also know, including from my own constituency, that many others are facing an anxious time with the threat of flooding from Storm Franklin. My thoughts are with them, too.
I also join the Secretary of State in praising all the engineers, network staff and emergency service staff who have done such an important job in incredibly difficult circumstances over the past few days, as well as local authorities, which have also played an important role in the emergency response.
On the substance of the statement, first, the most important priority is to reconnect those who are still without power. I welcome what the Secretary of State said about people being reconnected by Wednesday at the latest, and I trust that he will, as he says, hold all the companies to account in mobilising all their resources across the country to make sure this happens.
Secondly, on vulnerable households, in its interim review of the response to Storm Arwen last November, BEIS noted confusion of roles and responsibilities for vulnerable customers and communities that were cut off. The Secretary of State says the arrangements are working better, and I am glad that lessons have been learned. Can he tell us how he is monitoring that and is assured of it?
Thirdly, there were unacceptable delays in the networks’ compensation payments after Storm Arwen, with 10,000 customers having not been compensated six weeks after the storm. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure speedy payments on this occasion?
Fourthly, these events raise longer-term issues. Scientists tell us that we cannot necessarily attribute the ferocity of Storm Eunice to climate change, but we know that we face more intense and frequent extreme weather as a result of the climate crisis, so again it throws up the question of our resilience and security as a country.
After the storms in 2013, there was a clear sense of the vulnerabilities of the overhead power network and agreement that the energy networks would act. In its interim report on Storm Arwen this month, Ofgem said again that it will review the costs and benefits of the resilience of overhead lines, and the Climate Change Committee has highlighted climate risks to the power system. Does the Secretary of State agree that events this winter demonstrate the need to give greater priority to and, indeed, investment in the resilience of our power network?
More generally, the Climate Change Committee said in its five-year progress report last summer that adaptation is
“under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored.”
Does the Secretary of State agree that these storms are yet another wake-up call about the need for a proper national resilience plan that covers our power lines, flood defences and critical infrastructure?
The truth is that, as a country, we face significant threats from extreme weather in the years ahead. Today we should acknowledge the important work done in response to this crisis, but the lesson has been demonstrated yet again that we owe people the long-term planning and investment to give them all the protection we can.