Two major utility firms will be fined a combined £5.2 million for failing to attend potentially dangerous gas leaks on time, the energy watchdog said today.
National Grid Gas (NGG), which owns four networks in the UK, will be fined £4.3 million, while Northern Gas Networks (NGN), which owns one network in northern England, will be fined £900,000 for failing to hit targets for attending gas escapes on time last winter.
Gas Distribution Network Operators (GDNs) have annual targets to respond to 97% of uncontrolled gas escapes within one hour, and 97% of controlled gas escapes within two hours.
Rachel Fletcher, senior partner for smarter grids and governance, distribution at watchdog Ofgem, said: "Ofgem accepts that many parts of Britain experienced bad weather conditions over the last year and individual members of staff from NGN and NGG worked hard in difficult conditions to reach customers that reported gas escapes.
"However, both companies need to plan better for bad weather and ensure that adequate resources and contingency plans are in place to meet the annual targets."
Ms Fletcher added: "Consumers pay for these important service standards and have a right to expect that they will be met."
NGG reached between 92.1% and 96.1% of uncontrolled gas escapes in all four of its networks within time limits and reached 96.8% and 95.1% of controlled gas escapes in two of its four networks, all between April 2010 and March this year.
John Pettigrew, chief operating officer of National Grid's gas distribution business, said: "Last winter was one of the harshest seen in this country for many years, and our teams worked extremely hard in difficult conditions. We missed our target and told Ofgem as soon as we knew this would be the case, working closely with them during their investigation.
"We take our responsibility to attend and manage gas escapes very seriously, and we have learned lessons from last year that we have embedded into the improved plans we have put in place for this coming winter."
Over the same period, NGN reached 91.6% of uncontrolled gas escapes and 94.3%, of controlled gas escapes within the time limits.
NGN chief executive Mark Horsley said the company learned from last year's winter experience.
He added: "Winter 2010/11 severely tested our network and we would like to apologise to anyone who was adversely affected but also take this opportunity to reassure our customers that we have taken action.
"We've completed a thorough review of our business and resources and put the lessons learnt into a new plan for this winter.
"Despite the fine imposed, the regulator has praised the dedication shown by our engineers, support teams and contractors. They showed immense dedication in responding to an unprecedented number of gas escapes during the worst winter to affect our region for more than 100 years.