Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Northern Ireland Electricity plc to the Northern Ireland Affairs

Committee enquiry into the electricity supply problems in Northern Ireland over the Christmas and New Year holiday periods


  The memorandum is presented at the request of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. The memorandum provides a summary of the key facts which relate to the disruption of electricity supplies across the Province on Boxing Day and beyond. The disruption to supplies was a result of the severe and widespread storm damage resulting from the worst storm experienced in Northern Ireland since records began in 1928. NIE is currently finalising a comprehensive review of every aspect of its response during the storms.

  The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has decided to conduct a brief enquiry into the electricity supply problems in Northern Ireland over the Christmas and New Year holiday periods. The terms of reference are:

    "To consider the failure of Northern Ireland Electricity to respond effectively to supply problems arising from the inclement weather conditions over the Christmas and New Year holiday periods, the company's compensation proposals, and ways in which future improvement can be effected."

  As a result of the widespread disruption to supplies and the problems experienced in the initial stages in maintaining contact with customers, a Storm Review Panel was commissioned by the Group Chief Executive, Viridian plc, under the company's Terms of Reference for major incidents.

  The Terms of Reference were as follows:

    To review and report on the extent and duration of the extremely serious loss of supplies to customers resulting from the Boxing Day storms and the subsequent communication difficulties.

    The investigation should ascertain the problems encountered, particularly taking account of widespread customer dissatisfaction, and recommend where improvements can be made in:

    —  the ability of the system to better withstand such extreme conditions;

    —  the management of restoration of supplies;

    —  communications with the media and access to customers;

    —  restoration information from the field.

  The Panel has undertaken a comprehensive and wide ranging review of all the main aspects of our response during the storms with a view to establishing the lessons to be learned.

  In conducting its review, the Panel has taken account of the views of many customers affected by the storm, has met with District Councils and Assembly members, and received inputs from the Northern Ireland Consumer Committee for Electricity (NICCE).

  It is NIE's intention to discuss its findings and recommendations with Assembly members, District Councils and with NICCE and the Director General. It is also NIE's intention to publicise a report on its findings.

  This memorandum has been informed by the work of this Review Panel. The memorandum sets out the response of NIE to the severe storm conditions, the future improvements which it is recommending and a summary of the goodwill payments made in recognition of the inconvenience and frustration caused by the loss of electricity supply to individual customers.


  The hurricane conditions experienced on 26 December 1998 were the worst in some 70 years and the damage to our networks was very extensive, beyond anything previously experienced. The scale of damage as measured by the number of damaged poles, the number of faults due to damage to lines by wind and fallen branches or trees, was five-10 times that experienced during the Christmas 1997 storm. The complexity of damage, including in particular the level of damage to our high voltage "back-bone" networks, the multiplicity of faults on faulted sections at high and low voltage, and the sheer volume and widespread nature of faults made the process of damage assessment and estimation of restoration times very difficult.

  Of our 681,000 customers we had some 162,000 customers affected by supply interruptions on Boxing Day, resulting in an unprecedented number of telephone calls to our Call Centres over several days. In the week from Boxing Day, we had around seven times as many calls as in the corresponding week of the Christmas storms in 1997.

  As a result of the large volumes of calls received, it was close to impossible to deliver a satisfactory call-handling service through our Call Centres. An automatic messaging system, which should have been able effectively to significantly increase our call-handling capability, was unavailable during the critical first 12 to 24 hours of the crisis. Even beyond the initial stages, when we had again doubled our call handling capability with extra call handlers and with additional sub-contracted call centre support, we still had great difficulty in providing customers with personal contact and with the type of detailed information in relation to restoration times that we would like to have been able to provide.

  Our repair teams managed to restore some 100,000 customers by midnight on Boxing Day even before the storm has abated, and continued for the rest of the week to work extremely long days and through the hours of darkness. The main restoration process required several days and some customers remained off-supply right up until New Year's Day.

  In the consultation process since the storm, the feedback from customers and public representatives, etc., has clearly highlighted that the customer communications problem was the key issue. This was, in the first instance, the inability of customers to contact NIE to inform us they were off supply and then, later in the event, the difficulty customers experienced in obtaining useful restoration information.


  The NIE network delivers electricity supplies to customers though a system of overhead lines and underground cables which are part of the transmission and distribution network.

  Our distribution network is predominantly on overhead lines in which the 33kV and 11kV networks are made up of some 23,000 km of overhead line and 3,700 km of underground cable, mainly in Belfast and other urban areas. This high proportion of overhead network arises because our customer base is widely dispersed throughout a large rural community.

  Consequently, NIE's network is distinguished from that of the other UK electricity distribution companies by having one of the highest ratios of overhead line length per customer, exceeded only by Scottish Hydro Electric.

  To maintain and operate the network, NIE has in place a comprehensive capital expenditure programme. In the 10 years prior to privatisation, just over £300 million was committed to network investment. During the 10 year period post-privatisation, NIE has committed to an investment programme of some £570 million. Network performance investment has been targeted on the 11kV network, where a programme of refurbishment has been undertaken. This has been successful in improving network availability which as been reflected in an improvement in the Customer Minutes Lost (CML) index—a measure employed by the industry to define network performance. During the recent price control review and subsequent referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC), NIE proposed that refurbishment at the rate of 1,750 km per year was necessary. The MMC determined that the new price controls should be set on the basis of a programme of 1,500 km per year. In NIE's assessment of the recent severe weather and the damage to the network, we are now reviewing the level of investment in refurbishment.

  It is impossible to make an overhead electricity network 100 per cent proof against hurricane conditions, nor is it practicable to provide facilities whereby all customers affected by a major disruption of electricity supplies can have immediate and simultaneous direct access to customer service agents.


  The main operational units involved in an emergency response are the Control Centres, the Incident Room, the Call Centres, the Customer Service Centres and the Communications Department. Each of these played an important role in our overall response to the disruption to electricity supplies created by the Boxing Day storm.

  We had to deal with over 650,000 attempts by customers to call us on our telephone helpline, with over 300,000 on Boxing Day alone. In preparation for a large increase in calls on Boxing Day based on weather warnings and in accordance with contingency plan arrangements, staffing levels at the Call Centres had been increased. While we acknowledge the frustrations caused, we are committed to delivering step change improvements in dealing with similar emergencies.

  Supplies to 61 per cent of those customers affected by the storms on Boxing Day were restored by midnight. This was primarily achieved by the restoration of the "backbone" network. This in itself is a clear indication of our state of readiness and the effectiveness of our escalation procedures. Due to the large number of individual faults on the network, and additional disruption as a result of further weather systems, restoration work continued until New Year's Day. Over 600 field staff and three helicopters were deployed during the restoration effort. Linesmen were supported by a range of other staff, including plant electricians, metering electricians, underground cable jointers and meter readers, who undertook various duties such as assessing damage, replacing blown fuses, collecting materials from stores and many more.

  Field staff, including contractors' linesmen, worked very long hours in what were atrocious weather conditions, and despite the very long hours worked a high level of safety was maintained.


  The recommendations contained in this section are the outcome of our initial, albeit very extensive, review. Over the next three months we will conduct a wider review of the policies, procedures, experience and systems of other utilities who deal with hurricane conditions on a regular basis.

  Over the next six months we will continue to implement the full outcome of this review process and our aim will be to have further substantial improvements in our performance capability in place for next autumn and winter. In addition, we will have agreed programmes of investment already underway and in place for the medium-term development of the network.

  The following sections set out our recommendations in three critical areas of:

    —  improving communications with customers;

    —  improving the management of restoration of supplies, including improving the information from the field; and

    —  improving the ability of the network to better withstand such extreme conditions.


5.1.1 We will implement measures which will significantly increase our future call handling performance.

    —  We will move towards best practice by doubling our call handling capacity through our own resources and sub-contracting to other Call Centre companies.

    —  A planned escalation procedure will be put in place to deploy call handling staff within two hours from the declaration of an emergency.

    —  A new Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system will provide a range of facilities, including a more effective recorded messaging system and supplementary call-handling capacity.

    —  In conjunction with British Telecom, we will complete as a matter of urgency the review of the telecommunications facilities provided by BT upon which we depend in responding to widespread disruption of electricity supplies.

    —  The BT Message Link service will continue to provide a fall-back facility as required for callers who are not answered directly by call handlers or are not catered for by our IVR system.

    —  We will initially double the number of lines available to our own operators and the lines available to our IVR system.

    —  We will conduct a full analysis of the Message Link problem, including BT's response to the fault, BT's action to reduce customer access to the 0345 643643 Helpline, congestion at local exchanges and why some calls were connected to other 0345 numbers.

    —  The facility of independent direct lines for public representatives will be extended and will be fully operational prior to the onset of any future major storm event.

5.1.2 We will implement measures to improve the information available to call handlers.

    —  Customer fault information will be provided through full-text scripts rather than data tables which require operator interpretation. Advance training and appropriate incident information will also be provided to assist call handlers' understanding of the customers' use of townlands, place names and other local geography.

    —  Co-ordination of press releases and media announcements will be such as to ensure formal advance briefing of call handling staff and a more effective management of staff resources to allow for the subsequent expected increase in telephone traffic.

    —  We will train all Call Centre staff in all aspects of emergencies and aim to supplement the normal call centre staff with emergency standby staff who will be given advance training in call handling procedures.

    —  We will accelerate the delivery of our new Customer Service IT systems to improve the quality and speed of information to customers in storm conditions. We will focus on the delivery of the first stage of improvements by November 1999.

5.1.3 We will implement recommendations to improve our response to customers requiring special attention.

    —  The Special Needs Response Unit will be established as soon as an incident is declared and independent direct lines will be provided to public representatives. The introduction of the special help line for public representatives has been welcomed during our consultation process. In addition, a network of public representatives will by "polled" at least twice a day to ensure that we meet their needs in relation to special cases brought to their attention.

    —  Within 24 hours of an incident, we will contact all affected customers who are registered on our medical support equipment register.

    —  Within 12 hours of the need being identified we will ensure that registered customers' medical requirements are responded to through a network of health services and voluntary agencies which we will aim to establish in advance.

    —  We will maintain contact as required with special needs customers throughout the duration of the emergency.

    —  We will actively promote the medical support equipment register and offer customers registration through relevant medical and voluntary agencies.

    —  We will encourage customers to help us keep up to date details of how we may contact them and we will update information held on this register at least twice per year.

    —  We will formalise arrangements with providers of vital services (water, communications, hospitals and transport) to ensure that appropriate contacts are maintained. All these services will be contacted within three hours of the incident and action taken to ensure that, wherever possible, supply is maintained or restored.

    —  Agreement will be sought for establishing an external forum to ensure effective liaison with appropriate public bodies on matters such as public safety and the co-ordination of special support services as required in widespread emergencies of this nature.

5.1.4 We will put into operation a comprehensive media communications strategy in the event of future major disruption to electricity supplies.

    —  In the light of similar storm forecasts in the future, all media will be advised in advance of possible interruptions to electricity supplies and asked to broadcast this information to the public, indicating the extent of the likely emergency.

    —  In situations where severe storm damage has occurred, customers will be advised at the earliest stage of the widespread nature of the damage. In these circumstances it is likely that we will state that it is not possible to estimate accurately how long individual customers will be off-supply and that the priority will be to restore the "backbone" of our network as this will restore the largest number of customers in the shortest possible time. Where appropriate, it will be made clear that restoration for many customers may take a number of days.

    —  In the early stages of any future emergency, our Grid Control will make a high level estimate of customers affected by reference to load profile.

    —  In the event of a major loss of supply, the press and all available media channels, including local radio, will be used to give advice to customers on the scale of the emergency and the restoration process.

    —  Local Customer Service Centre Managers will act as a focal point for any required local media contact.

    —  In future emergencies, we will issue four comprehensive updates to customers and the media each day. These will be timed to reach the main news bulletins. Our Internet site will be updated at the same time. We will aim to supplement these comprehensive updates with two hourly radio bulletins.

    —  Information bulletins will include advice on safety issues and on how best to protect freezer contents.


5.2.1 We will reinforce our organisation and procedures for anticipating and quantifying the scale of a major incident.

    —  We will maintain a weekly formal risk assessment based on weather forecast information which will be communicated to all operational units including the NIE Executive. If there is a risk of a major incident, contingency plans will be advanced to reflect the predicted scale of the problem.

    —  The Incident Room Manager will focus, in the initial phase, on obtaining an early assessment of the scale of the emergency in terms of the extent of loss of supply, our resource capability to deliver restoration, and the expected length of time to full restoration.

    —  We will supplement the Incident Room management team with an additional communications resource and a high level steering group which will maintain an overall view of how information on the restoration process is communicated and aligned with the needs of the customer and the public.

5.2.2 We will take steps to secure the availability of resources and materials in similar emergencies.

    —  We will formalise our arrangements for the deployment of existing contractors (including helicopters) and we will put in place more formal relationships with other electricity companies for the rapid provision of additional manpower resources and strategic materials.

    —  We will formalise arrangements for the reporting and mobilisation of all staff to undertake tasks which may be outside their normal work, and we will provide the appropriate training.

    —  We will confirm our arrangements regarding the supply of strategic materials used in the repair of overhead lines, the logistics of the delivery to stores and the level of stock holdings of those items.

5.2.3 We will improve the systems for passing fault information to field staff and getting feedback from the field on restoration progress.

    —  Ahead of the delivery of new systems, we will urgently review the functions and performance of the computerised Service Calls (customer fault reporting) System during storm conditions, with the aim of making interim improvements, including the highlighting of safety issues, customer care information and repeat customer calls.

    —  The existing Service Calls System will be extended as far as possible to be accessible on-line to all our in-house Call Centre operators. Where call-handling is through a third-party Call Centre, our aim will be to ensure that fault reports from customers are logged into the Service Calls System with a minimum of delay.

    —  A combination of Post Codes and/or Townlands (where appropriate) will be included in all information flows from Call Centres and Customer Service Centres to provide clearer information to customers off supply.

    —  We will use non-operational staff to provide field information support in future storms.

    —  The new Customer Service IT systems will address all aspects of the customer fault reporting system and will be available on-line to all call handling staff. We will review the sizing and capacity of the new systems to ensure that the volumes of calls registered with call handlers in a typical emergency can be processed within acceptable timescales.

    —  Our new IT systems will provide the mechanism whereby information from the field can be immediately made available to call handlers and therefore to customers.

5.2.4 We will adopt measures to enhance the security of the services provided by NIE Telecommunications.

  These measures will include:

    —  Reconfiguration of the corporate telephone network to maximise capacity and resilience, including an increase in the number of telephone lines into our Call Centres as referred to in S.1.1.

    —  Reinforcement of the management system for the monitoring and control of telecommunication networks; improvement of the standby power arrangements for key installations; improvement of the private digital network topology to reduce the impact of multiple digital network faults; two new private mobile radio links between Rosebank Control and other Control Centres.

    —  Mobile phones to be provided to all key staff in an emergency.

5.2.5 Changes to organisational arrangements at Customer Service Centres will be reviewed.

    —  There will be no rationalisation of the current 13 Customer Service Centres until the new Trouble Management System and rapid response procedures are fully established and proven.

    —  Each Customer Service Centre will have a manager who will be responsible for leading the local restoration effort.

    —  Future contingency plans should provide for a full management team at all 13 Customer Service Centres in an emergency response, and direct updates to these teams and the Incident Room.


We have reviewed our capital investment programme.

  The performance of refurbished 11kV overhead lines during the storm compared with non-refurbished lines reinforces the value of prioritised performance improvement expenditure within the refurbishment programme and it reinforces the need to continue to target expenditure in this area.

  When NIE's price controls were referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in 1996, the case for higher levels of expenditure to be allowed specifically for improving network performance was argued exhaustively and contested by Ofreg. A balance had to be struck between the need to improve network performance and the need to reduce electricity prices. We proposed that the MMC should allow a level of expenditure in this category which would enable us to ramp-up the 11kV refurbishment programme, which was already well under way, to refurbish 1,750 km each year over the five year period. Paragraph 2.129 of the MMC report records MMC's view, extracts of which are as follows:

    "In our view, NIE's target for improvements in customer minutes lost, while laudable in itself, is more ambitious than can be justified in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, with its acknowledged problem of high electricity prices . . . . We consider that it would be consistent with [a] less ambitious target for NIE to refurbish at the rate of 1,500 km per year rather than 1,750 km."

  We will engage with Ofreg in a discussion on their approach to higher levels of investment in measures to improve network performance, as follows:

5.3.1 We are proposing an acceleration of our programme of full overhead line refurbishment.

    —  We propose an increase in the rate of our 11kV overhead line refurbishment programme from the previously planned 1,500 km per year to 1,750 km for 1999-2000 and to 2,000 km per year from 2000-01 and 2001-02. This will give an average of 1,750 km per year for the five year period 1997-98 to 2001-02. Over the total five year period, we will fully refurbish 8,750 km of overhead line. This was the figure that NIE proposed at the MMC inquiry in 1996. By 31 March 2002, the refurbishment programme which began shortly after privatisation will have refurbished 65 per cent of the total 11kV circuit length.

    —  We propose to significantly increase the level of 33kV overhead line refurbishment to refurbish 1,100 km over the same period. By 31 March 2002, almost 45 per cent of the total 33kV circuit length will have been refurbished.

    —  In order to improve the resilience of the LV network to storm conditions, we propose to accelerate our long term programme of replacing overhead lines and under-eave wiring in urban areas. We will also extend this programme to include some of the open wire systems on the outskirts of urban areas. These will be principally replaced by underground cabling, with the alternative of aerial bundled conductor considered where appropriate. Over the next three years, we will replace 120 km of overhead LV network in this way.

5.3.2 We will target other areas for supplementary refurbishment.

    —  The delivery of the full refurbishment measures listed above will be challenging in terms of its demand upon management and resources to undertake the work and to manage the impact upon customers by minimising the number and duration of planned outages necessary to carry out the work. At these rates, it will take 10 years to complete the full refurbishment programme.

    —  Training in live-line working techniques for additional teams will be introduced to mitigate further supply interruptions during programmed refurbishment work on the network.

    —  We propose to supplement these full refurbishment measures with a programme of partial refurbishment which will target the replacement of poles nearing the end of their useful life on those circuits which are not immediately scheduled for full refurbishment. Over the remaining three years of the current price control period, the supplementary programme will cover 750 km of 33kV circuits and 2,500k m of 11kV circuits. This is estimated to involve the replacement of almost 10,000 poles.

    —  Taken together, the full refurbishment programme and the supplementary programme, when extended into the next price control period, will ensure that the complete 33kV and 11kV networks have been improved by one or other form of refurbishment within the next six years.

    —  We also propose to extend LV refurbishment beyond urban areas to include 2,400 km of suburban and rural areas, targeting the replacement of those poles classified as decayed. When taken together with the urban programme, the LV overhead network will have been refurbished within six to seven years.
Summary of proposed HV and LV refurbishment programmes to March 2002
Voltage1999-00 km2000-01 km 2001-02 kmTotal km
33kV750550 5501,850
11kV2,2503,000 3,0008,250
LV840840 8402,520

5.3.3 We propose to reallocate expenditure to finance the accelerated refurbishment programme.

    —  The additional work implicit within these accelerated refurbishment programmes would require expenditure of around £24 million over the next three years, the financing of which would require expenditure to be reallocated from other categories of expenditure reviewed by MMC. The reallocation is justified on a redefinition of the priority which should be given to improving network performance to provide greater resilience to a similar future storm.

    —  At the time when OFREG comes to set new price controls, we would recommend that they should be set on a basis which would fund the expenditure necessary to maintain refurbishment at these levels as a minimum.

5.3.4 We propose to accelerate our tree pruning programme.

    —  A significant proportion (24 per cent) of the faults during the Boxing Day storms were caused by trees interfering with overhead lines. In recent years, NIE has significantly increased the amount of tree pruning on the network. We will ensure the continuation of this plan at a level which brings tree pruning into a secure five-year cycle, which covers the entire network as shown in Table 2.
Proposed tree pruning plan
1998-991999-2000 2000-012001-02Per cent Network
Proposed tree cuttingkm kmkmkmNetwork km
275kV8080 808020 400
110kV174174 17417420 868
33kV4591,000 60060019 3,074
11kV2,1003,500 4,0004,00020 20,007
LV4001,000 1,0001,00020 5,000
Total3,2135,754 5,8455,84520 29,349


  NIE's obligation to provide compensation payments is defined within our Customer Standards. These do not apply in situations where severe weather conditions result in disruption to supplies.

  However, in recognition of the inconvenience to customers caused by the extended supply interruptions, we are making goodwill payments on the following basis:

  Customers who were continually off-supply for more than 24 hours during the period 26 December to 1 January will receive a goodwill payment of £115, which includes £50 towards fridge/freezer contents. This payment is credited automatically to bills sent out after 1 February and customers can request a cheque payment at any time. All customers will be advised as appropriate, via their bill, that if they feel they are entitled to a payment and a credit has not been made, then they should contact NIE.

  Those customers who were off-supply from 26 December to 7.00 pm on 30 December may also apply for a Hot Meal Allowance of £12 per person per day from 30 December. In addition, a Bed and Breakfast Allowance of £40 per adult and £20 per child will be paid for each evening from 31 December if customers were continually without power from 26 December to 1 January. Details of how to make these claims together with claim forms have been advertised in the local press.


  We have conducted a comprehensive review of all of the main aspects of our response during the storms with a view to establishing the lessons to be learned to ensure a step change in performance under similar conditions in the future, particularly in the area of communications with the public. We have had the benefit of direct feedback from customers and from meetings with a wide range of public representatives. We have also had the opportunity to compare our experience with ESB in the Republic of Ireland and with Scottish Power in Scotland, both of which were similarly affected by the storm and had very large number of customers off-supply, very high customer call volumes and extended periods before full restoration of supplies.

  We will begin to implement a range of recommendations arising from our present review with the aim of securing, from the earliest possible moment, an improvement in performance in similar storm conditions in the future.

  However, as we have indicated, we see a need to evaluate rigorously the potential for further improvement beyond our initial, albeit very extensive, recommendations. For example, in the area of call handling and restoration, we intend progressing immediately to a doubling of our existing call-handling capacity based on existing technology and systems. We see the potential for new technology and systems-based solutions to produce a further significant improvement in performance. And in the area of investment for network performance improvement, we believe there is room for an accelerated programme of investment to take us beyond the levels indicated within the MMC price review and therefore considerably beyond the levels of investment originally favoured by Ofreg in this area. We intend, therefore, to continue over the next three months a wider review of our policies, procedures and systems, as well as a review of the policies, procedures, experience and systems of other utilities, including US utilities who deal with hurricane conditions on a regular basis. We will also open up a dialogue with Ofreg specifically on their approach to higher levels of investment in network performance improvement.

  The work of implementing the full outcome of our process of review will continue over the next six months, with the target of having further substantial improvements in our performance capability in place for next autumn and winter and agreed programmes of investment already underway and in place for medium-term development of the network.

  Even after the implementation of these performance improvements, it will have to be accepted that:

    —  outside the urban centres there will continue to be a very large number of customers served by rural overhead line, which will remain very extensive right across Northern Ireland;

    —  these overhead line networks will continue to be vulnerable to damage in hurricane conditions such as experienced on Boxing Day, leading to loss of supply potentially to very large numbers of customers;

    —  in the first 36 hours after such hurricane damage, the best information that we can make available is that we have widespread damage to our overhead line networks, that the process of damage assessment will take time and it will not be possible in the early stages to make accurate estimates of restoration times for individual customers;

    —  typically 80-90 per cent of customers will be reconnected within the first 36 hours but there will be some customers who will inevitably remain off-supply for 4-6 days before they are reached in the restoration process, and customers need to plan individually on the most pessimistic assumption;

    —  in the case of very large numbers of customers off-supply, communications networks and our call-handling capability will be heavily stressed, customers will continue to have great difficulty in getting through to our customer service agents and very many customers will have to rely in the initial stages on automatic call-messaging and answering services and media broadcasts for information.

  However, what we can aim to provide is:

    —  an expanded emergency call-handling capability and improved systems which enable a greater number of customers to make the vital initial contact earlier to report their own off-supply situation;

    —  a much improved (two hourly) public broadcast providing customers with regular accurate information updates on damage assessment and the process of restoration;

    —  a more extensive database on our customer care register, which enables us to better identify customers with special needs, such as a dependence on electricity for equipment for medical support;

    —  a greatly strengthened network of contingency communications which ensures that public representatives, other key service providers, voluntary organisations, etc., are kept informed on the damage assessment and restoration processes and are able to respond to the needs of individual customers and customer groups with special needs;

    —  an incremental improvement to our damage assessment and restoration processes so that, as far as possible, the length of time any customer is off-supply is reduced to the minimum consistent with priorities in restoration and the resources available.

  The following decisions were in train or will now be progressed for immediate implementation:

    —  £2 million expenditure will be spent on increasing our communications capacity and on technology to enhance our call-handling capability;

    —  there will be an acceleration of the £12 million of planned investment in Customer Service and IT programmes, including the new Trouble Management System, which will enable information to be obtained and distributed to customers and the media more rapidly;

    —  We will propose to Ofreg that £24 million of capital expenditure should be reallocated into an accelerated programme of network refurbishment. This will greatly reduce the time required to refurbish the electricity network in Northern Ireland;

    —  falling trees and branches caused nearly 25 per cent of faults during the storm. We will be seeking the co-operation of landowners to enable us to step up our tree-pruning programme significantly;

    —  we will host an inter-agency forum to enable utility providers and government agencies to develop and co-ordinate plans to respond effectively to emergency situations.

  NIE is committed to the delivery of electricity to customers in an efficient and secure manner. We will continue to seek out opportunities and methods of improving every aspect of our service to customers.

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