An 'astonishing' degree of neglect: MPs take dim view of energy bosses over Christmas power cuts

Distribution companies accused of ‘utter complacency’ and neglecting their customers 

The bosses of Britain’s energy distribution companies were today accused of “utter complacency” and an “astonishing” degree of neglect of their customers.

MPs on the Energy Select Committee went on the attack after the executives attempted to defend their firms’ responses to the recent power cuts.

During a heated two-hour session, Basil Scarsella, the £1.7m-a-year head of UK Power Networks, refused to apologise for the inconvenience caused to the company’s 460,000 customers who were without electricity over the Christmas period, in some cases for up to five days.

UK Power Networks and the other distributors are responsible for ensuring supplies are maintained through the local grid. They are separate from the Big Six energy firms, which charge homes for the energy they use.

Mr Scarsella, who The Independent last month revealed was paid £1.7m in 2012, told MPs that he had anticipated the storm and that 80 per cent of his staff were able to go into work over the Christmas-New Year’s Eve week.

But he said the storm’s length, severity and national reach meant operators struggled to cope despite using “tried and tested plans”.

Mr Scarsella said that under a “mutual aid system” distributors from other parts of the country stepped in to help their regional counterparts deal with any problems.

“But because of the severity and national nature of the storm we were not able to provide additional resources to other networks or indeed receive additional resources,” Mr Scarsella said.

He conceded his company could have communicated better with customers and said lessons would be learnt.

Basil Scarsella, Chief Executive of UK Power Networks, gives evidence to the Commons Energy Committee (PA) Basil Scarsella, Chief Executive of UK Power Networks, gives evidence to the Commons Energy Committee (PA)
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck, said he did not believe that distributors did everything they could for their customers.

“You must have failed because otherwise how could these things have happened,” he said.

The five distribution firm bosses were asked to apologise and while two did, Mr Scarsella declined.

Instead, he said: “We feel sorry for customers, especially the ones off over Christmas.”

He added: “We do feel for our customers… but it was a national event that had an impact we hadn’t seen for some time.”

Tim Yeo, chairman of the  committee, said the plans had been “inadequate”. He accused the networks – which are the exclusive distributors in their local areas – of “utter complacency” and behaving like typical monopolies.

“Frankly, if your customers had the capacity or freedom to switch to an alternative distributor, I’m sure millions of them would be doing so as we speak.”

Mr Yeo added: “I have to conclude that you are exploiting your privileged monopoly position and have displayed a neglect of your customers which I personally find absolutely astonishing.”

Mr Yeo also accused the energy bosses of making Energy Secretary Ed Davey look “ridiculous” after he promised an emergency number to report power cuts – a number which has now been delayed.

David Smith, chief executive of industry body, the Energy Networks Association industry, told MPs: “There are some technicalities around it. We need to work through those. We are doing those now.”

The other companies grilled were ScottishPower Energy Networks, Scottish and Southern Energy, Electricity North West, Western Power Distribution and the Energy Networks Association, the trade body.

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam