UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1752-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Scottish Affairs Committee

A Robust Grid for 21st Century Scotland

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Jane Fowler and AlAstair Redman

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 98

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Scottish Affairs Committee

on Wednesday 25 January 2012

Members present:

Mr Ian Davidson (Chair)

Fiona Bruce

Jim McGovern

Iain McKenzie

David Mowat

Pamela Nash

Simon Reevell

Mr Alan Reid

Lindsay Roy

________________

The Chairman being called away, Mr Reid took the Chair in his place.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Jane Fowler, Chief Officer responsible for Emergency Planning/Civil Contingencies, Argyll and Bute Council, and Alastair Redman, Sub-Postmaster, Portnahaven Post Office, Isle of Islay, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Thank you both very much for coming, in particular Alastair, who I understand had a much longer journey than expected. How long did it take from originally leaving home until you got to London?

Alastair Redman: I was supposed to be catching the half-past 8 flight but it was cancelled. I left home at about 7 and arrived the next evening about half-past 11 here in London. I was a wee while travelling-most of the day.

Q2 Chair: We appreciate you both coming. Could you start off by introducing yourselves?

Alastair Redman: I am Alastair Redman. I am a postmaster and business proprietor on the west coast of Scotland. I am representing not just the people of Islay but Portnahaven and Port Wemyss, which have been so ravaged by the constant power cuts.

I am a business runner, but I am not looking at it from my own selfish perspective. There are elderly people in my village who have had to contend with power cuts every second day, even when the weather is good, and constant lost power supply, loss of water and not being able to heat the house because most of the fires heat the water and the water stops.

There is no communication whatsoever between the different departments; there is a real breakdown. There has been no maintenance on the lines for 15 years and now those chickens are coming home to roost. SSE is not a poor company. It has paid out huge quantities to its shareholders. The Isle of Islay generates £130 million a year in revenue for the Exchequer. It deserves better than the third-world service it is getting now. It is still paying the first-rate prices that are paid elsewhere.

Q3 Chair: Thank you. Jane, could you introduce yourself and make an opening statement as well?

Jane Fowler: My name is Jane Fowler. I work for Argyll and Bute council. My area of responsibility is that I work in the chief executive’s unit. I am one of the council’s chief officers. I have responsibility for co-ordinating civil contingencies as well as a number of other areas of responsibility within the council.

My role during the recent emergency-what eventually turned out to be an emergency-was to make sure that the council’s civil contingencies role was fulfilled and that the services that the council is responsible for delivering took place as they should have during the power outages. There are a number of things I could add to that, but I will wait for your lead, Chair.

Q4 Chair: Thank you. Alastair, could you tell us for how long your communities of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss were without power during the recent storms?

Alastair Redman: It was sectional, but most of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss was out for over 80 hours. Port Wemyss and King Street, which is not that far away-it is almost the same village though you would never say that-was out for over 90 hours, and the outlying farm areas even longer. When Scottish Water insisted they were pumping water for the houses through the generators there was not enough pressure on the line, so there were a lot of areas that did not have water for that long as well.

There are a lot of people over the age of 90. Although we are a tight-knit community and look after our own, at that age it does not take much and it really does start to have an effect. You can only do what you can with the tools you have. If we have no tools, there is nothing we can do.

Q5 Chair: Was that a one-off incident because of the storms or have there been other incidents in recent years as well?

Alastair Redman: My greatest fear is that Scottish Hydro are using this storm as a shield, saying it is an act of God. The fact is, as you can see from the information given-and this is collected by locals and myself and many other volunteers such as Stuart Graham and Beryl Jackson-that their records do not match these. These are definitely correct. We have experienced it. When the weather is good the lights go out. When the weather is bad the lights go out. When the weather is moderate the lights go out.

The thing that no one ever talks about in the Hydro company is the constant power surges. It says there that there were 20 surges in one night. It wrecks electronic equipment. It might knock months off the life of a freezer; it might destroy it instantaneously. It happens all the time. We are absolutely sick of it. We deserve better than what we are getting.

Q6 Chair: How many days have you been without power over the past year?

Alastair Redman: Probably about two weeks in total, I would say; maybe 14 days, maybe more if you add it up. That is not including the constant surges as well, which do huge amounts of damage to our equipment. The Hydro company is naturally dragging its heels. One minute they say they will credit 100% of all lost things. They are offering cheques of £75, which I feel is an insult. Legally, they are obliged after 48 hours to pay £75 and then so much for every 12 hours after that, and £55 for power cuts that last longer than 12 hours that happen more than three times a year. They have easily exceeded that. At the bare minimum, even if you do not have any damaged stock, damaged items or wrecked electrical equipment, you are looking at £158.

If the Hydro company was smart, because it is sitting on a public relations disaster here, it would pay more than that. Businesses like my own-the pub, the fisheries and the farms that have freezers, computers and all these things-have a lot more costs. It is a huge amount. We are talking multiple thousands of pounds in January, when your balance sheets in rural areas just cannot take a hit like that.

It is not something that has always been there. In 1998, when there was regular maintenance on the lines, there were on average four power cuts a year. Now we get four power cuts a day-a dozen in a week. How are we supposed to live in those kinds of conditions?

Q7 David Mowat: Do you have the sense that it is a lot worse for your communities than other outlying places perhaps such as Orkney, Shetland or Harris or places like that? Do you have a sense that it is worse where you are?

Alastair Redman: All communities suffer. Islay has far too many power cuts. In particular, as you get further down the line, Port Charlotte, has more than Bowmore or Bruichladdich. As you get further down the line than that, Portnahaven and Port Wemyss definitely have more than the rest of the island. It is just due to a lack of maintenance on the line. There are no underground lines. It is an absolute joke. I do not blame the front-line workers. They do a terrific job but their hands are tied. They can only react to things once they break. There is no regular maintenance; it is reactionary.

Q8 David Mowat: What I was trying to understand, though, is whether Argyll and Bute was particularly worse.

Alastair Redman: Yes.

Q9 David Mowat: If people were here from Shetland, Harris or somewhere like that, would they have had similar experiences of surges and power cuts in good weather that you are describing?

Alastair Redman: Not to the extent as in Argyll, no.

Q10 David Mowat: You do not think so.

Alastair Redman: No, absolutely not.

Q11 Chair: Jane, do you want to come in on that?

Jane Fowler: I can maybe set a wee bit of context. Argyll and Bute has a population of just under 90,000. We have 25 inhabited islands. We have a very high proportion of forestry. About 30% of land covering Argyll and Bute is afforested. That has had an impact over the last wee while. In the last storm that took place on 2 January, which resulted in the extended and protracted power cuts for the island of Islay but also for the island of Bute, and communities in Dunoon were affected as well, throughout the whole of Argyll and Bute we had in excess of 400 communities affected at one point by power outages. That was by day three after the storm.

The Scottish Government Resilience Room was called by the First Minister in response to that. Argyll and Bute was the only local authority that was present at the Resilience Room meeting because we were disproportionately affected by power outages at that point. There was nowhere else across the rest of the Highlands and Islands. I do not know whether that is because of the infrastructure capacity that is there within Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles, but certainly during that storm they were not affected in the same way that Argyll and Bute was.

What is important to remember is that the impact was not just on power. We have heard from Alastair about the impact on businesses from things like being able to trade, the impact on people’s freezers, the lack of heating and all those things. There is a knock-on effect that we had and that we found particularly difficult to deal with. All our communication systems were affected. The mobile phones were out. We have a fairly heavy reliance on Vodafone for coverage in the area of Argyll and Bute. BT connections were down on the island of Bute. We had a protracted period of time where there was no 999 coverage, which was a really serious situation for the emergency services. Of course, they had a response in place to deal with that, but it was another additional impact that the communities had to deal with. It also affects our wider transportation networks because our communications are affected. We have a combination of factors that are affected by the loss of power.

One of the difficulties we had, as a local authority who has responsibility for civil contingencies and for delivering services to our vulnerable people, was why there was no resilience within the mobile phone companies to make sure the masts had power, within the BT network to make sure there was back-up generation in place to ensure that that could be carried out and also the back-up capacity for the power itself.

The power companies do have a responsibility, but what we experienced was really a combination of factors that made it very difficult for a protracted period of time to have the most basic communication between the local authority, the customers-our service users-and individuals and communities across the whole of Argyll and Bute.

Alastair Redman: There are some areas in Harris that still do not have working phones now. One of the problems was that any attempt, as was mentioned, of any repair was hindered. Scottish Hydro did draft in huge amounts of front-line workers; that is true. I do not blame the front-line workers, but they had mobile phones that did not work because they did not have a signal. There were no local guys of any of the foreign teams. You had Southern Irish, Glasgow and English workers going round on their own in an area they did not know. Off the record, front-line workers in Scottish Hydro will openly say, "We’ll only fix that when it breaks and I can guarantee you we will not stock that part." It needs to be shipped in from the mainland.

It was not always this way. It is an absolute disgrace. Most of King Street, Shore Street-in fact all of the outlying areas as well as Portnahaven and Port Wemyss-and most of Islay heat their water with a coal fire. When you run out of water, which happened of course because the electrics stopped it getting pumped, you could not even light a coal fire. We had 90-year-olds in our village without light, electricity obviously, water and a fire. Something man has enjoyed since the Stone Age we did not have. You cannot light a fire with no water; you would blow up your system. It felt like we were totally abandoned; it really did. That is why I am here now.

Q12 Chair: Jane, could you explain the impact of the power cuts both on residents and on businesses over the wider Argyll and Bute area?

Jane Fowler: Yes. The storm really hit early on the Tuesday morning, 2 January. Our immediate response as a local authority was to make sure that any trees that have fallen down are cleared so that the roads are open in that respect for transportation and communication. The power was on and off in a number of communities throughout the whole of the area. On Thursday, as I mentioned earlier, we received a list that had in excess of 400 communities identified. That was moving into day three.

As Alastair said, there are vulnerable people within the communities. We have a responsibility to support and deliver a service to those people. That is something that happens on a daily basis. We knew that our vulnerable clients were being looked after. What we did not know, after day two and moving into day three, was who the people were who were possibly becoming vulnerable. You may have people who are living independently in their own home but who have not had heating for a particular length of time and who cannot get to the shops, because the shops could not open. The electric tills, electric doors and electric cash points were not working. People were running out of cash. Petrol pumps were not working because they rely on electricity. It was creating this perfect storm. Our concern was to make sure that we got information so that we could offer support and help, along with our colleagues in the police force, through our social work and voluntary sector organisations, to those people who were becoming vulnerable as a result of this ongoing period of power outage. From that point of view, that is something we have learned a lot from during the experience of the storm. We will put together whatever we possibly can to respond better to that.

You will have heard of Islay whisky and you will have heard of the golf and tourism. You will also, hopefully, have heard that Argyll and Bute is an area where we are looking to generate a renewables industry. We have a vast amount of potential for renewable energy. We have a renewable energies action plan. We also have a very robust economic development action plan for the Argyll and Bute economy, which is fragile and dependent on the public sector, SMEs and tourism at the moment, so that it has a much more sustainable potential for growth in the future. One of our other real concerns is that it becomes very bad for business if, for a four-day period, we have no power. Our businesses work on having a reliable service to deliver to tourists. They are producing food and your freezers are going off for four or five days.

When we are trying to raise the profile of the area, the damage to business by having high profile power outages for a protracted period of time is potentially very difficult for us to deal with and to overcome, particularly when we have been investing a lot of time and effort in making sure that we have the plans in place, that we are working with the private sector, and we are trying to move the economy forward.

We are also investing a lot in roads infrastructure and revitalising our towns so that we have that platform for economic growth to take place. Again, that is potentially compromised by an image that says, "Argyll and Bute: that is the place the power goes off."

Q13 Chair: You mentioned there the Isle of Bute. How long was the power off for there?

Jane Fowler: The power was off on Tuesday on the Isle of Bute and then it came back on again temporarily on the Wednesday. We thought that Bute was sorted. It then went back off again. It was off again until late on Thursday night and in some places Friday morning. Bute is an island of 7,000 people. We did open one of the council buildings there-the Pavilion. We opened that as a kind of centre to provide hot meals and things for the community. Even so, it was difficult. There were people who rely on having access to power for things like breathing apparatus in their homes. It became very difficult.

One of the difficult things also was physically getting information to people. I mentioned that we have 25 inhabited islands. There are a lot of dispersed communities. The physical distances involved in trying to communicate with people become very difficult to manage if you do not have access to a telephone. Many people now have walkabout phones, so if the base station is not getting electricity then your phone is not functioning. People were rummaging away in the attic looking for an analogue phone to plug in, but many people did not have that.

Alastair Redman: And they did not always work.

Jane Fowler: And they did not always work. There was no internet. People had electric radios. Not many people have battery-operated radios any longer. We had real challenges in trying to communicate with the people of Argyll and Bute and to give them an answer about when the power was likely to come back on again. That was very challenging.

Q14 Iain McKenzie: Taking you back to the maintenance issue, I take it from what you have said that no regular preventative maintenance is taking place. What do you base that on? Is it just the number of interruptions to supply or have you definitely got some evidence back from the supplier to say, "We don’t carry out regular maintenance"?

Alastair Redman: It is not a WikiLeaked document. It is out there; it is public. They stopped maintaining the lines back in 1998 to save money. The thing that is annoying is that the front-line workers, although I could not name them, will tell you that they are reactionary things. If it breaks they will fix it, but since 1998 they have not maintained it. Surprise, surprise, the chickens are coming home to roost. Year on year it has got consecutively worse. Try running a car for 15 years without maintenance; of course it is going to break down all the time. It is the exact same analogy and it is not acceptable.

We have green energy projects in Portnahaven. We have a massive wave generator that does not work when there is no power because it needs power to operate. We do not necessarily benefit directly from a lot of the green energy projects that we have. In fact we do not benefit from them at all. We wish we did. It would be good for us to have a wind turbine in our village that meant we had a discount on our electricity bills. That would be a good thing to have. Most of the time what happens is that a green energy item is built but we do not see the benefits of it. Many locals say, "What’s the point in having it? We don’t see the benefit of it."

Q15 David Mowat: On the maintenance point, do you have evidence that other parts of the network are also not being maintained or is it just Argyll and Bute, in your view?

Alastair Redman: Argyll and Bute and other areas too.

Q16 David Mowat: For example, we talked about Orkney and Shetland. Is it your evidence that they are not being maintained or that Harris is not being maintained?

Alastair Redman: We know for a fact that they were planning maintenance on the Isle of Islay and in Argyll as well. They shifted the maintenance. They were planning it for this year, I believe, and they have now shifted it along. They said they would maintain and they didn’t. It is written; it is down; the Chair has a copy of that document as well.

Q17 Chair: Yes. Am I right in saying it was a letter that was sent to Mr Shields, as well as to his local MP, promising that maintenance work would be done last year?

Alastair Redman: And it wasn’t. They admit that it wasn’t as well. In essence, they should be very red-faced over this because they have been caught not doing the job that they are supposed to do. If you are living in an area with power cuts every second day and being out for 98 hours, it is unacceptable. There is no level of excuse they can come up with for that. No act of God causes that much power loss.

Q18 Chair: Jane, has the council been able to quantify the extra costs it has had to incur because of the storm?

Jane Fowler: It is a difficult thing to quantify. We had additional shifts of workers coming in to ensure that all our vulnerable clients were dealt with and given additional support during that period, and that anybody else who was identified as potentially vulnerable was also visited. I do not have a figure of what that cost would be, but there was a cost in terms of the revenue to the council of having additional people out and about.

One of the things that we are looking at is the potential cost of making sure that we have back-up generators in place. We are responsible for running care homes and children’s homes as well. We have a lot of responsibility to ensure that we can provide services when there is no power. We had an initial look at the cost of providing generators as back-up in our key areas. Again, I would refer you to our dispersed geography. We do not have a single town. We do not have a single mean settlement that we could provide services from. We are looking at in excess of £700,000 to provide generators for some of our key facilities within Argyll and Bute. That does not include any additional resilience that we may need to build in for the likes of all our IT systems, and it does not include the cost of mobile generators to be dispersed throughout smaller communities where, if there are going to be protracted periods of time without power, we would need to look at providing a rest centre in some of the smaller communities round about. It would not be a core council building but perhaps village halls for people who would not be able to travel the distance into a rest centre facility that we had in one of our main towns.

Q19 Chair: Do you get any help from the Scottish Government because of the emergency?

Jane Fowler: There is the Bellwin Scheme, but I do not think the additional expenditure that we have incurred as a result of this particular incident would trigger the threshold for the Bellwin Scheme. The contingency that we put in place would be different from the actual payment of damage incurred as a result of the cost. It is slightly outwith the parameters of that.

Alastair Redman: From my perspective, the Scottish Government were a lot slower to react than this Government down here. Alan Reid, right away, put this in front of an MP Select Committee. In essence, what we are looking at here is a Scottish Government reacting to finding out that it was getting done here, and then all of a sudden it going through.

The hilarious thing is that it is one of these things that is not a devolved power. A lot of the MSPs will complain about the situation down here and will go on about it, and rightfully so, but it is not a devolved power. It has to be sorted here. You have the power to make that decision. I hope you come forward for the people because, in my opinion, we have suffered under this inappropriate service for too long. I genuinely think we need a better service.

Q20 Fiona Bruce: I want to go back to the issue of compensation. How successful are residents and businesses in claiming this? Is it in any way a true reflection of the loss suffered?

Alastair Redman: No, absolutely not. In essence, they are offering what I would consider an insult to a lot of people. They offered most businesses a cheque for £75. Most businesses would happily have paid 10 times that for it not to happen. Residents alone should be entitled to more than that. Businesses are down thousands of pounds on their balance sheets in January. Of course, they are saying it has to go through insurance. That pushes up your premiums, and it is not the time when you need this expense on your balance sheet. What they have offered is an insult and is unacceptable. They are just dragging their heels because they know how much this will cost them.

Q21 Fiona Bruce: Ms Fowler, would you like to comment on that?

Jane Fowler: I cannot give you a comprehensive answer to that. We do not have information across the whole of Argyll and Bute at the moment that would give a clear picture of what is being claimed by residents from their own insurance or what the actual losses sustained are. It is certainly something that we would like to get a picture of so that we can understand the impact.

Q22 Fiona Bruce: Mr Redman, could you tell me some of the particular difficulties regarding claiming through insurance? I know that Scottish and Southern Energy have told residents that they should claim. What about items like food spoiled in fridges and businesses suffering?

Alastair Redman: We got a rather sporadic response. Initially, they said to me and everyone else to claim what had been lost. Then after that they said, "Sorry, it is an act of God." They probably realised how much it was going to cost them. They then started dragging their heels. There is no form you can fill in. You just have to write out a claim. You have to itemise it yourself and send it to them. Most of the time they are saying, "No, we are not honouring that; we will give you a small cheque." As for the mechanism in place, there isn’t one. You have to write to a set address with a note saying what you do not have. They are then saying no to 90% of that and offer you a small cheque. It is a disgrace.

They only offered people compensation-at least in my area, and this is not the same all over of course-for hot food, hotels and all these other things on pretty much the last day of the trouble, when we were told. One of the really annoying things is that, when you phone Scottish Hydro to complain, most of their call service is now down in Portsmouth and they just do not have a clue what is going on. It is no prejudice in any regard, but the people you speak to on the phone don’t have a clue. Their answer is no to everything, and you get different answers depending on how many people you speak to. There seems to be no communication whatsoever.

Q23 Fiona Bruce: Compensation neither from the transmission companies nor insurers reflects the value of the losses.

Alastair Redman: Exactly. It should not even have to go to the insurers; that is the thing. They are saying to put it on your insurance. So we push up our premiums because of their lack of maintenance on the lines. That is completely unfair. It is not just stuff that is lost in freezers. You lose computers. You lose most electronic equipment.

To give you an example-and I do not want to refer to myself here because I am representing all of the Rhinns area and to an extent Islay as well-in my business my chip-and-pin machine was down for three days. After that, there was another power cut. My ATM was down for nine days. I have to get an engineer in to fix it each time. Each time that is a time when people cannot draw out cash, which is a service they need and it is a business I provide.

Q24 Jim McGovern: Alastair, in relation to these claims that are going in and being rejected, are residents acting as individuals or is there a residents’ association or some sort of group acting collectively?

Alastair Redman: There is no official association, but, and this is unusual in Portnahaven and Port Wemyss, we are so outraged by the sheer condition of what is going on that we have got together, put together a template claim form and you add your own information to it. This is all done independently from any bodies that are in place. Again, they are still rejecting those claims. They are offering small cheques, which are just an insult, to be honest. They would be better offering nothing.

Q25 Jim McGovern: Is there not a case, given what has happened, for forming some sort of association and getting legal representation? Hopefully, it will never happen again, but even in this instance.

Alastair Redman: Unofficially that is, in essence, what has happened anyway. It is not an official thing, but it is a formation that has occurred that has led to a group of people getting together to sort out this situation once and for all because the infrastructure we suffer under is not fit for purpose. It is a tough thing. You can see that from your sheet there in front of you. Imagine yourself in that position where your lights are going out every second day. It is not just about running a business for Islay people. It is unacceptable and something has to be done about it. As for the compensation, we have put together very fair cases. Again they are getting refused by a power company that is just after saving money.

Q26 Jim McGovern: Are you aware of anyone who has sought legal advice to say, "Can they reject my claim even though it was their fault?"

Alastair Redman: I know people have spoken to their legal representatives. What they reckon is happening is that they are basically saying no initially to shake off, say, 25% or 30% of the claims. They are assuming that a lot of people will stop at the first hurdle, which is true because a lot of people do. If you are an elderly person you are not necessarily going to write half a dozen letters. They know fine well what we are legally entitled to. They certainly know what they should be paying, but they are holding out to shake off a few claims. People are not even made aware of the fact that they can claim. They were not sent letters. It was not issued to them right away. They had to write in themselves. Again, this is all stuff that the Hydro company should be doing. There should be forms in place to fill in. They should send them out to people. They should know for what time the power is off, and they do not half the time. This form you have in front of you, which I pieced together with locals, is a more accurate representation of what happens. That is shocking. They should have the more accurate books, not us.

Q27 Fiona Bruce: Is there a local chamber of commerce to co-ordinate the business claims?

Alastair Redman: No, there is not.

Q28 Fiona Bruce: Is there a local authority trading standards department?

Jane Fowler: Yes.

Q29 Fiona Bruce: Have they picked this up on behalf of residents?

Jane Fowler: I am not aware that they have been approached, but I am sure that if you are interested we can find out about that. Yes, we do have a trading standards team within the council.

Q30 Chair: It would be interesting to know what the view is of trading standards. Could you perhaps ask them to write to us?

Jane Fowler: Yes.

Q31 Jim McGovern: Jane, you may have touched upon this earlier, but what plans do the council have in place for emergencies caused by power cuts and power outages?

Jane Fowler: The council has a generic emergency plan and we have a series of tiered plans and responses to emergencies. We work very closely at an operational level with our colleagues in the police, fire and health service. We also work at a strategic level. Part of our community planning partnership includes all the key players around the table that we would need in the case of an emergency.

Argyll and Bute is split into four administrative sub-areas with administrative bases within them. We have area emergency response teams for each of those areas. You will appreciate though, with the number of inhabited islands that we have, that we need to have island plans or island teams as well. We run a programme of emergency response tabletop exercises with representatives from each of the islands on a rolling basis. For example, on the island of Tiree we have had exercises there. We have looked at the impact of an influx of visitors or disasters. We plan on the basis of scenarios and exercise the teams on a regular basis in response to that.

With all of these situations, whenever there is an emergency like this, the real emergency shows you all the things that you need to think about for the next time. We faced an unprecedented situation with the power being out for such a protracted period of time and it did impact on our communications. On the island of Islay we did have representatives from the council and from the police, who got together and started working quickly with local hoteliers in Bowmore, opening up their council facilities to make sure there was somewhere available for people to go. On the island of Bute we did the same thing. As I mentioned earlier, we got the social work lead on the island there, as well as co-ordinating visits to vulnerable clients and working with the voluntary sector, to oversee the opening of a feeding centre. It was not so much a rest centre because we were not in the situation where we had to provide bedding, but we provided hot food, information and heat-somewhere for people to go and warm up.

We do have an emergency planning structure in place and we do test its resilience on a very regular basis, but this was a very challenging scenario for us.

Q32 Jim McGovern: Absolutely; it certainly must have been. What constitutes an emergency? Alastair said there can be four or five power cuts in a week. Is every power cut an emergency, or is that just a nuisance?

Jane Fowler: It is an interesting question because you have to decide when it does become an emergency. The Scottish Government decided that we were in an emergency situation when they called a meeting of SGoRR in the Resilience Room with the First Minister.

Q33 Jim McGovern: You mean what happened in January.

Jane Fowler: Yes.

Q34 Jim McGovern: That was blatantly and obviously an emergency, but what Alastair is referring to happens four or five times a week. Do you just write that off as a nuisance or is that an emergency when someone is left without any heat, light or any means of communication? That sounds like an emergency to me.

Jane Fowler: For that person of course it is an emergency. We have to look from the point of view of scaling it up. There is a responsibility for us under the Civil Contingencies Act to make sure that we respond when there is a particular situation that is called in as an emergency. When there is a power outage or a power cut that is the result of something to do with the power network or the power company not providing power to a particular area, there is a responsibility initially for the power provider to sort that out. If it was beginning to affect groups of people or communities, and we were being made aware of that, then we would begin to start saying, "We need to start providing some alternative."

Q35 Jim McGovern: I will go back to my very first question. What constitutes an emergency?

Jane Fowler: It really depends on the situation and the scale of the impact on the people who are affected. What is an emergency for one person may be able to be dealt with by either the 999 service or by the power company sorting something out. Maybe people would be resilient enough to last for a day without power. However, if that person is vulnerable and they are not getting the care they need, then that is an emergency and we need to respond from the point of view of making sure that that person’s needs are seen to. That is part of our responsibility as a care provider.

Alastair Redman: In my opinion, it was an emergency but we did not get a reaction like it was an emergency. It was a very slow reaction and a very slow fix. It was an emergency but it certainly did not get treated like one.

Q36 Jim McGovern: Do the council have plans to offer more support to local residents? As I said to Alastair earlier, hopefully it will never be on the scale of what you have seen in December and January, but you have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Do the council have plans to offer more support should something like this happen again in the future?

Jane Fowler: From the point of view of having better co-ordinated support between ourselves, the police service and Scottish and Southern Energy, we need to improve communications there. There is no question about that. As I said before, in every emergency situation we learn something for the next time. We will learn a lot from this and we will make sure that we have looked at how we can deal with the problems that we came up against in this last period of time and make sure that we have something in place to deal with that-absolutely.

Q37 Jim McGovern: For purposes of comparison, have you been able to speak to other local authorities and say, "How do you deal with this? Are we dealing with it as efficiently as you or not as efficiently?"

Jane Fowler: We work very closely with our colleagues in the Strathclyde Emergencies Co-Ordination Group, which are all the local authorities and emergency services across Strathclyde. We have a lot of joint working and joint learning there. As you will appreciate, within Argyll and Bute we have a lot of fairly sensitive sites. We do a lot of exercises on that basis for big strategic emergencies. From the point of view of our local emergencies, operationally there is a lot of very good work that goes on and learning between local authorities and emergency services across the entire sector. We are continually exercising, learning and updating what our response would be.

What we have to be prepared for is that we have seen certainly two big storms in December and another one in January. All of those had an impact on Argyll and Bute in different ways. Some of them were high tide surges. Some of them provided flooding. Some of them were power cuts. Some of them were road blockages. Some of them were damage to buildings and things as a result of high winds. It seems like we are beginning to see an increased frequency of these severe weather events. We have to continue to be prepared to do this more often and respond to these types of situations more often.

Q38 Jim McGovern: On the subject of costs, which is not the most important factor but is a factor nevertheless, what are the costs to the council when something like this happens?

Jane Fowler: It varies. For the period of the power cuts from 2 to 7 January the costs incurred were the additional shifts of people going out, so there would potentially be a little bit in overtime. There is a displacement of work that would otherwise be done when people are taken off their day job to deal with the emergency situation.

In terms of clearing the roads and that kind of thing, we have shift patterns. We have winter teams on the go and on standby anyway. That is part of our ongoing management of winter maintenance. They would clear roads or drive gritters, depending on what the situation was.

There would be some costs associated with providing hot food in places like the Pavilion in Rothesay and then also reimbursing the cost of food for people in Islay. At the moment there are not huge costs. The bigger costs would be in considering how we respond to that resilience by providing back-up generators or looking at contingency for things like our IT systems. What we have to do is make sure we have some form of communication in place.

We have looked at satellite phones. The cost of satellite phones is fairly high, but the coverage is not 100% in Argyll and Bute. We cannot rely on it. We are fairly limited in the kind of sight lines that link up to the satellites. Airwave radios are potentially another way of communication, but we have to be prepared and make sure we are resilient enough to be able to communicate with one another across the public sector and with the voluntary sector so that we can fulfil our duties to care for the people for whom we are responsible.

Q39 Jim McGovern: Although what happened in December and January was absolutely exceptional, the costs incurred are within budget.

Jane Fowler: We do not know yet because all of the information has not come in for the provision of food and to get a picture of what the additional overtime costs would be. We are currently going through a series of local, strategic and multi-agency debriefs. Once we have all that information together we will have a picture of the costs. We can certainly provide that from the point of view of the council.

Q40 Jim McGovern: Alastair has outlined the problems that individuals are having in getting some sort of compensation. Once the council has arrived at some sort of figure, would the council expect to be compensated by the power companies?

Jane Fowler: It would depend upon what it is that we are actually looking for. There are some things that are our responsibility under the Civil Contingencies Act in terms of caring for vulnerable people, for example. There will be other things that will be covered by our insurance. Damage to any buildings or whatever would obviously be something we would have to absorb as part of our overall costs.

Q41 Jim McGovern: Has the council’s legal department confirmed that you have no claim?

Jane Fowler: No; we have not confirmed that. We have to look at what the expenditure actually was and then look and see what our position is in terms of meeting that.

Q42 Jim McGovern: Finally, are the power companies involved in planning procedures for this sort of situation?

Jane Fowler: We have good operational communications with the power companies. We are informed most of the time when there is a problem with power, but we are not informed all the time that there is any kind of problem with power. Certainly from now on they will definitely form part of our emergency planning procedures. The power companies are not on the likes of our community planning partnership and they have not been part of our strategic emergency planning groups in the past.

Q43 Jim McGovern: But they will be in the future.

Jane Fowler: They definitely will be in the future.

Q44 Pamela Nash: I would like to explore this a bit further. Alastair, we touched on the fact that there were hundreds and thousands of vulnerable people in their homes at this time. In your experience in this most recent incident, was there anyone who was not reached by anyone to help them at that time?

Alastair Redman: One of the most famous problems that everyone still talks about is people literally driving to the Scottish water depots where they stored bottles of water. The phones were not working and they could not phone in. They could not get permission to hand out bottles of water. Can you believe that? It is absolutely insane. You have elderly people in a house with no water and they would not give you a bottle of water because they did not have permission from higher up. What in God’s name are they doing in that job if they are not qualified enough to hand out a bottle of water? It is not poison. It is not dangerous. It is water. It is a necessity.

I said to the water company a dozen times that they could drop the water bottles off in my shop and I would hand them out to customers as they come in; they could maybe drop them off at the bus shelter. There are half a dozen places, if not a dozen places, in one village alone where they could easily be dropped off and distributed everywhere. But they would not release the bottles of water. That is one example. But, yes, there were people who were not reached. Luckily, we do look after our own, but again if our tools are limited there is only so much we can do.

Jane Fowler: From the point of view of the council working with the police, as I said earlier, we recognise that vulnerable people that we had identified were all supported. They were all given the visits that they were due to get and they were dealt with. We had concerns about people becoming vulnerable over that protracted period of time. What we wanted to do was get information from the power company that said, "These are the people we have not been able to contact." If there are areas that still have no power on day three, we need to be able to contact them, even if that meant sending out teams of people from social work, working with the police to go out and physically knock on doors, or work with our voluntary sector colleagues and go out and knock on doors and say, "We realise you have not had power for two or three days. Are you okay? Do you need any assistance? Do you need any help? How are you doing? Did you know you can get a hot meal here?" We were trying to get information about that so that we could send people out. We eventually just started sending people out to go to particular communities where we could not get any contact.

Q45 Pamela Nash: Specifically on that, my constituency also had power out for nearly four days. In my experience the information from the power companies was frequent but concerned quite large postcode areas. Did you have any better experience of that? How localised was information you were getting to target those people you had on the ground?

Jane Fowler: The information was difficult to get. We got it on a postcode basis to begin with. That is when we knew we were in a fairly strategic emergency because the map of Argyll and Bute looked as if it had measles. It had all these dots all over it. It was not in particular areas; it was all over Argyll and Bute. We knew at that point that we needed to make sure that we acted and got things moving to support these people.

Getting names and addresses became difficult. Contact numbers and contact details also became difficult. You have to be careful when it starts to get into the evening. A lot of us were spending time just phoning out in the evening, trying to get hold of people and asking were they okay, saying that we realise the power is off and that we are phoning from the council or from the police. You have to be sensitive as to when you stop doing that. You don’t want somebody who is cold, not very sure about what is happening and has gone to bed then getting a knock on the door from somebody from the police or even from social work saying, "Are you okay?", and them saying, "Well, yes, I’m fine but now I’m cold again because I have got up." We had to balance that.

It was difficult to get information that was accurate that really helped us. What we wanted to do was support the contact that had been made by the power companies so that we could make sure people were okay. We had the resources to be able to do that. We had people ready and mobilised to go out from the police, social work and also the voluntary sector who were able to do that, but it was difficult knowing where to deploy those resources.

Q46 Pamela Nash: Is it fair to say that you would highlight that as something we should address as soon as possible?

Jane Fowler: The better the information that we can share between ourselves, our partners in the public sector and the power companies, the better able we are to respond. You do not get any duplication of effort because there is no point in wasting resources. What you want to do is target the people and give them the support that they need. That is what we need to do, but we need the information to be able to do that. The better we can get that, the more effective any response we can deliver will be.

Alastair Redman: Any information-that is the thing. I would emphasise that the Hydro company, when we phoned them up, did not know. They said, "We have got so many thousands of houses down. We just don’t know. We don’t know this. We don’t know that." They don’t know anything. My reply to that would be, "What are you for? Why are we having this conversation?" Ever since they outsourced everything to Portsmouth they have had that problem, quite literally. Every time you phone up they just don’t have a clue. The saying in Portnahaven, Port Wemyss and Islay as well is, "I’ll ring up and inform the Hydro company. I will let them know the problems", because they don’t know until you tell them.

There was a time you could pick up the phone-and I am not being that nostalgic because we are talking a couple of years ago-and they would tell you the fault, how long it would be and whether the workers were there or not. Now they just do not do that. There is just absolute disconnection. Half the problems they come up with are totally facile. I remember once ringing up and they told me that a tree was blocking the road at Bruichladdich. I do not know where this tree came from because there are certainly not that many trees near Bruichladdich. Having driven down that road, I know fine well it was not blocked. A lot of the stuff they said was just fictitious; it was made up. It annoyed a lot of people because it made us think that they thought we were stupid, and we are not. We can tell when we are being lied to or fobbed off. That is exactly what happened during that last crisis, if you want to call it that. There was a sheer breakdown and it seemed like a shambles to me and everyone down there that suffered. It really is quite shocking.

Going back to the water thing, half the problem was not just getting the water, but each person would be required to phone in individually. If you were caring for an elderly person or a group of elderly people in that street, you could not phone in for a dozen bottles. No: each individual household would have to phone it in, if they knew the number to get to, if they could get through to them on the number, and if that person had permission to give bottled water out, which is absolutely insane.

I have a friend in the Royal Marine Commandos. They spent, if I have got this right, one day clearing a village and laying a power line longer than eight miles under insurgent fire. That is with no infrastructure in place whatsoever. If we can do it on the other side of the world under fire, why in God’s name can we not do a little bit of maintenance to keep infrastructure that is already there in relatively good condition? It seems like an insane question to be asking, but it is a valid one.

Q47 Pamela Nash: I have one more point. Jane, this was deemed an emergency situation by the Scottish Government, yet you said this in itself did not trigger additional resources. What additional support was given in recognition of the fact that this did constitute an official emergency? What is the process after that? On top of that, what additional problem would have to happen before the council was given additional resources to cope with it?

Jane Fowler: It would depend what resources you are talking about. If you are talking about people resources, then we would be offered the opportunity to pool our resources with, for example, our colleagues in neighbouring areas. In Argyll and Bute, for example, we have home care workers or our social work staff involved in a rest centre. One of the issues is that we have people in such isolated areas that you have a restricted number of home care workers or social work staff on whom you can call to run these. You have social work teams running a rest centre, but how do you pull in the next wave, because you cannot physically get them from anywhere else? It is a six-hour journey from our nearest bordering local authority to bring somebody over.

The trigger for resources is identified at that strategic level, but mobilising those resources is something that we will find challenging just by virtue of our geography. If we really needed resources, then they would be co-ordinated and allocated from that strategic level.

Q48 Pamela Nash: Just to be clear, were you given any additional human resources during this period?

Jane Fowler: No. A person from the Strathclyde emergency co-ordinating group came and worked directly with our civil contingencies manager.

Q49 Iain McKenzie: Just quickly on the same questioning line as Pamela, I want to ask about the frequency with which these unforeseen emergencies are presenting themselves. How does your local authority budget for this and what are the implications for your budget?

Jane Fowler: At the moment it is difficult to quantify. From the point of view of physical damage to buildings, we have experienced damage to a number of buildings over the three storms that we have had. Obviously we have insurance in place that deals with repairing the damage to those buildings. That may or may not have an impact on our premium. I do not know whether that is the case or not, but that is something we would look at building into our budget forecasting. We work on the basis of a three-year budget profiling.

As I said previously, the additional costs of our human resources to deal with that are at a fairly low level as long as the number of emergencies does not continue to increase. If we have three a month for the next few months, or if we consider that we have potentially three a month for the period from September through to March, then that is definitely going to begin to have an impact on our revenue budget. It is difficult to predict at the moment. It appears that we are experiencing those with increased frequency.

Q50 Iain McKenzie: The point is that you cannot quantify how many emergencies in the future you will have to react to.

Jane Fowler: No.

Q51 Iain McKenzie: From what we are viewing and the lack of maintenance and so on, you will be seeing more and more.

Jane Fowler: Yes. We will have to manage that within the budgets we have unless it triggers any additional cost that would be covered by something like the Bellwin scheme, where you have to hit the threshold and then you would be given compensation for it. It is difficult to quantify.

Q52 David Mowat: I am trying to get clear in my own mind about SSE’s performance on this: first of all, whether it should have happened and then their response to it. If they were here, they would say, "We had extremely bad weather conditions in this period and it was exceptional. Occasionally these things happen." That position might be reasonable if it happened every 30 years or something. I am just interested to know whether or not, in more moderate weather conditions, you have also experienced difficulties.

Alastair Redman: On the information you were issued with, you would have noticed that next to the power cuts there is a line detailing the type of weather. As you can clearly see from the stuff you have read, in fact on calm days it went out; on rainy days it went out; and on horrifically stormy days it went out. It went out regardless.

Q53 David Mowat: Was that all part of this incident?

Alastair Redman: No.

Q54 David Mowat: Has that happened in previous winters, for example?

Alastair Redman: Yes, absolutely. Year on year it has been getting worse.

Q55 David Mowat: You would expect there to be severe outages in any average winter.

Alastair Redman: Again, each year it has got worse. This year was particularly bad. It was not this bad last year. This has got exponentially worse.

Q56 David Mowat: They would say that the weather this year was exponentially worse. That is why I am trying to understand. It might be reasonable. You cannot design a system that would never break down. That would not be reasonable.

Alastair Redman: I agree, in which case we would have lights on when the weather was good, but we did not have lights on when the weather was bad or when it was moderate. You can see it is written down there. In fact, the list you have in front of you is an obsolete list. There have been a half dozen power cuts since then-

Q57 David Mowat: To be clear, do you have lights out sometimes in the summer?

Alastair Redman: Yes, we do.

Q58 David Mowat: At a level that you would regard as unacceptable.

Alastair Redman: Absolutely.

Q59 David Mowat: Is the council cognisant of that as well? That seems to me to be quite a big thing, if that is the case. There is no weather alibi. Is that something that the council has noted?

Jane Fowler: The frequency of power cuts across an extended area of Argyll and Bute is not something that we have been aware of up until now.

Q60 David Mowat: But now this has happened, you are saying you are getting outages and power cuts in the summer when there is good weather and there is no alibi for the weather. That seems to me to be a completely different type of allegation because it cuts right across them saying, "We have had particularly severe weather here and this is a once in every 20-year or 30-year event and we did our best." You are saying that this is happening all the time, just to be clear.

Alastair Redman: Yes, in August-

Q61 David Mowat: Would the council back that up?

Jane Fowler: I do not think we have information. I cannot give you any evidence that says we are aware of that.

Alastair Redman: I can give you specific dates. Recently there has been perfectly acceptable weather and the lights went out. Here we go: not windy on May 27 and 6 June; that was one. On 2 and 19 November-

Q62 David Mowat: I understand. You have made your point clearly. The other point that is related to that is whether or not other remote communities that SSE serves are as badly served as you seem to be. I guess you do not know that necessarily, do you? Why would you?

Alastair Redman: Not specifically. We seem to be the worst. I am not just saying that because I am fighting our corner.

Q63 David Mowat: Just to be clear, you do not think that was just because of this particular weather incident, which was worse to you.

Alastair Redman: No, but I can guarantee to you that Scottish Hydro Electric will use that as a shield. They will say that the weather was bad, but the lights go out even when the weather is good. I will happily stand up and say that.

David Mowat: That seems to be quite an important point to me.

Q64 Chair: Am I right that you said earlier that Scottish and Southern had written to people last summer promising a refurbishment later last year, and it did not happen?

Alastair Redman: Their resources got diverted somewhere else. I cannot exactly remember where they were diverted, but there should be a copy of that in the information.

Q65 David Mowat: This has happened and you have had this bad weather. Do you also believe that their response was inadequate?

Alastair Redman: Yes. I do not blame the front-line workers. They did the best with what they had, but there was no communication. The front-line workers were not local but drafted in from elsewhere. A lot of them did not quite have the same-

Q66 David Mowat: In fairness, presumably they could not communicate for the same reason you could not, if all the mobile phones were down. I do not know, but I should imagine that was the case.

Alastair Redman: Should they not have a system in place to deal with that? Forgive my impertinence, but if they are called into an area with power cuts there is likely to be trouble with the phones as well. It is not unreasonable to demand that the Hydro company have RF radios or something like that.

Q67 David Mowat: Just to answer the question again, your view is that the response was inadequate, it having happened.

Alastair Redman: Inadequate, yes. The workers, as good as they were, did not work in shifts. That is another thing. At a certain time of the night they stopped and they did not start again until the morning. They had extra workers in-huge quantities of people; I do not deny that-but they were not working in shifts and they were not that well co-ordinated. Sometimes they needed to phone in to get permission to do something and they could not.

Q68 David Mowat: I suppose, if there is a load to do, you do not need to. If there is an infinite amount of work to do, you almost do not need shifts; you just work in the daylight. It depends what the constraint is on it.

Alastair Redman: This is true. One assumes that, with the amount of workers they had, they should have worked in shifts. It basically meant that the power cut went on longer because they were not working through the night.

Q69 David Mowat: Finally, on the communications aspect of it, you are quoted as saying that you thought that was inadequate as well.

Alastair Redman: Not fit for purpose, yes.

Q70 David Mowat: Your words were "confusing" and "contradictory".

Alastair Redman: Yes.

Q71 David Mowat: What examples of that do you have?

Alastair Redman: You would literally get the woman or gentleman you spoke to at Portsmouth, or wherever it is we are phoning into lately, saying one thing and then you would phone up again and they would say the complete opposite. It was commonplace. First, they would say the road was blocked. Then they would say, "We can’t send a gentleman up the cables because it is too windy." Each time there was a different excuse. Almost as many times as you phoned up you had a different excuse.

Q72 David Mowat: That does sound "confusing" and "contradictory", doesn’t it?

Alastair Redman: It does.

Q73 David Mowat: Was the water incident you described, with the water bottles, the water company or was it SSE?

Alastair Redman: SSE has some responsibility because after 12 hours of no electricity the water stops. This is something the water company should be dealing with as well.

Q74 David Mowat: It is because the water company could have generators, if they had that responsibility. That is not an SSE responsibility necessarily.

Alastair Redman: Even when they do have generators it does not create enough pressure to push the water to all the places affected.

Q75 David Mowat: That depends on how big the generators are. If you have big enough generators, it would.

Alastair Redman: They did eventually bring in ones, but they were inadequate to reach every house.

Q76 David Mowat: I suppose what I was getting to on that is that it is your view that the water company was inadequate as well.

Alastair Redman: The water company seemed to see the responsibility as lying with the Hydro company, and the Hydro company seemed to see the responsibility as lying with the water company, for some reason. It was always somebody else’s job.

Q77 David Mowat: On the face of it, the inability to supply water is the prima facie responsibility of the water company.

Alastair Redman: I could not agree more.

Q78 David Mowat: It would be a reasonable question to ask whether or not they ever have back-up power, for example.

Alastair Redman: Exactly. I know before this long, long power cut there was one for 26 hours. That is on the sheet there as well. What happened was that the water ran out and there was such an outcry that they got generators in. But, surprise, surprise, the generators were not working that time and they were not strong enough to push the water down the lines.

Q79 David Mowat: I have one last question for Jane. There is apparently a website called "HaveYourSayOnBute".

Jane Fowler: Yes.

Q80 David Mowat: That has reported that the residents felt they received poor communication from the council. I am just interested in your perspective on that.

Jane Fowler: As I said earlier, communication was extremely challenging. We did not have BT for a period of time on Bute. We did not have any electricity. We had no mobile phone signals on the island. It was very difficult.

Our fundamental responsibility in that situation was to make sure that our vulnerable clients were dealt with. Our senior social worker on the island was given an airwave radio by the emergency services. He was able to keep in contact with the police, the fire and the ambulance service, which is as it should be. Where there are no communications it is fundamental that those are the people who have the ability to communicate with one another. He based himself at the hospital, which did have a back-up generator. We also had a core emergency service centre at the police station. The Pavilion was the rest centre further away.

There is an issue on an island the size of Bute and in other communities where there is absolutely no means of communication, other than people potentially going around with loudhailers saying, "If you want a hot drink come to the Pavilion." Scottish and Southern Energy provided mobile catering units that were in the middle of the town.

What we did was rely on word of mouth. The message was put out through taxi drivers who were operating round and about. Home carers who were going out to see vulnerable clients were given the information to pass out. In communities like that information moves around fairly quickly. Obviously there are some outlying farms in smaller communities where perhaps the message would not reach, but we tried to think as innovatively as we could, while making sure that our primary responsibility was to care for the vulnerable people who we knew needed to be dealt with and to make sure that the emergency services were able to communicate with one another.

We have had lots of suggestions in from the public since then. There have been letters to councillors, directly to the chief executive and to ourselves saying, "You could have done this; you could have done that; you could have done the next thing." We were dealing with an emergency across the whole of the area and we concentrated on priority clients, priority customers and vulnerable people.

We could have done other things if we had perhaps diverted resources to send people out to drive around and knock on people’s doors, but you have to do that in a controlled way and you have to be clear about the message that you are giving to people. We could go out and tell people that there was hot food and drink available. We were not in a position to tell them when the power was going to come back on, which was essentially what everybody wanted to know.

We will take back all the suggestions for how we could communicate better in the future. We also need to see how the communities managed that communication themselves. How did the people who knew that the Pavilion was open spread it among their group of friends and relatives and pass that message out through the community?

Q81 Fiona Bruce: How many staff do you have on the council?

Jane Fowler: In total, we have 5,500 employees-4,500 full-time equivalents.

Q82 Fiona Bruce: How many residents does that serve?

Jane Fowler: 89,500.

Q83 Fiona Bruce: When the emergency clearly became an emergency, how did you deploy those staff?

Jane Fowler: The roads department staff dealt with clearing all our transportation routes. They were removing trees and doing the clear-up. We had our home care workers and social work staff managing the visiting of vulnerable people, making sure that our care homes were sorted out and liaising with the NHS. Our teams within property services were charged with making sure that they assessed any damage that had taken place in any of the council buildings. This was before the schools went back after the Christmas and new year break, so we had a few days to assess what the damage would be, to make sure we were in a position to inform parents about children going back to school the following Monday. There were bits of damage that were being assessed there, and then that had to be mobilised from that point of view.

At a strategic level, the strategic management team got together to co-ordinate the response. We pulled in other people as appropriate to deal with responding to the emergency. Our communications team was obviously a core part of that strategic response.

Q84 Fiona Bruce: What percentage of your staff was actually deployed for this emergency and what percentage was left on their normal day jobs?

Jane Fowler: The first day was a public holiday so it was only people who were either already on shift work or who were called in to deal with the emergency. That was a fairly small number. I do not know if I can answer that question accurately just now, but I could certainly find that for you.

Q85 Fiona Bruce: I would be interested to know in particular what you would do differently now, using those 4,500 people, and what lessons have been learned with regard to maximising the human resources and the other resources that you have as an authority in an emergency.

Jane Fowler: Yes.

Q86 Chair: Jane, you pointed out correctly that this was during a school holiday. If it had been during the school term, how would that have added to the complexity of what you had to deal with?

Jane Fowler: We have about 90 schools in Argyll and Bute across the whole of the area. About 10 of those are secondary or joint campuses and the rest are primary schools. The decision on the opening or otherwise of a school in a storm situation is always taken at a local level. You will appreciate that because of the size of Argyll and Bute we may have very different weather conditions from Helensburgh in the east to Tiree in the far west or Campbeltown up to Oban. We have a system in place, which is agreed by COSLA and the Scottish Government, that that decision is taken on a local basis by the head teacher according to an agreed framework and an agreed decision-making tree that is in place.

The other thing is that we are informed by the Met Office on their system of alerts. We have red and amber alerts. What usually happens is that, if there is a storm situation or a severe weather incident, a decision is taken very early in the morning by the head teacher, in consultation with senior management, about whether or not the school should open. Communication is then made with the parents and pupils using a number of different communications methods if the school is going to be closed that day. The decision is taken locally and early before school starts.

Q87 Chair: But that relies on all these communication systems being there.

Jane Fowler: Yes, and working. We always work on the basis that the school would be open. We do not want to be in a situation where the weather deteriorates or is forecast to deteriorate, but we do not know until a period of time when perhaps the children have left to go to school and the parents have gone to work. We do not want to be in a situation where children arrive at school and it is closed. We always make sure that there is somebody co-ordinating that there, to make sure there is a safe route for the children to go home afterwards and that there is somebody there to receive them. We have a duty of care for any children.

Alastair Redman: Personally, I do not remember seeing anyone from the council come down my neck of the woods. It could be the exception, but in Portnahaven and Port Wemyss I did not see anyone or hear of anyone. I think that is a bit wrong if that is the case. Someone should have been down at least once. We did not see anyone at all. In fact, we saw more Hydro people than anyone else, which you would expect, but we did not even see that much of them either.

Q88 Iain McKenzie: In terms of the condition of the power lines, did you have any responsibilities at all towards maintenance?

Jane Fowler: I do not think the council does.

Q89 Iain McKenzie: None whatsoever.

Jane Fowler: I do not know. I do not think we do.

Q90 Iain McKenzie: If you are informed of a problem by a resident, do you pass on that problem to the power company or do you point them in the direction of the power company?

Jane Fowler: We would advise them to contact the power company. If they were having problems in contacting the power company and they came back to us, then we would pick it up on their behalf. Sometimes if people are having problems with the power or with any other service, they would go to their councillor and the councillor would then potentially pick it up with the power company directly or pass it to an official to deal with.

Q91 Iain McKenzie: In the first instance, if they phoned into the council to report a fault, you would advise them of the reporting procedure to the company.

Jane Fowler: Yes.

Q92 Iain McKenzie: Does the council keep any records of power cuts in your local area?

Jane Fowler: I think we would have a record of power cuts that affect the council.

Q93 Iain McKenzie: Where could you view those records? Do you keep them categorised at all?

Jane Fowler: I do not know. I could not answer that question, but I can find out.

Q94 Iain McKenzie: Do you categorise the power cuts? Do you know of any categories that you put them into, based on duration or coverage?

Jane Fowler: I am not aware of that. If it is an emergency where we have to deal with power cuts across a wide area and that triggers an emergency response, like a civil contingencies response, we obviously have records of what our response to that was. That highlights what the duration of the power cut would be. If it is a short power cut as a result of high winds and a line being hit by a tree that has come down-we have a lot of trees in Argyll and Bute so it does happen fairly regularly that trees come down and the power goes off for a short period of time-and if it has affected some of our offices, then we would probably have a record of that, but I do not think we categorise them. They are either emergency power outages that we have recorded under the emergency procedure logs or-

Q95 Iain McKenzie: You do keep a record of the power cuts but you do not know where that could be viewed.

Jane Fowler: I do not know if we keep a record of it, but I can find out.

Alastair Redman: The Hydro company’s records certainly are not accurate as to what has happened. Also, you mentioned informing councillors, but I am sure there are many occasions across Argyll where the councillor will not necessarily pass on the information or even get back to you. You should not have to depend on the local councillor to do his job, because they don’t always. It should be done by the Hydro company.

Q96 Chair: There is one outstanding question and perhaps Alastair can answer it. What happened to the lighthouse at Portnahaven?

Alastair Redman: Indeed, yes. It is legally obliged to be on, and it was off for three days in total. After that they put on a very dim light, which could barely be seen with binoculars. It was off for three days. There was a rather hilarious moment where one of my customers saw, I think, a Southern Irish engineer turn up and say, "Aye, that’s the lighthouse right enough", which is a bit worrying considering he had been sent to fix it.

The lighthouse was out for three days. It is illegal and dangerous. Not all sea traffic has computerised navigation systems and they are not always reliable. That should never have happened. That is a different question but still very dangerous and something that needs to be fixed. It should never happen again. Above all else the lighthouse should stay on.

Q97 Chair: Jane and Alastair, is there anything you wanted to add that we have not asked you?

Alastair Redman: Yes. In my opinion I would say that the Hydro company will use the bad weather, which was terrible, as a shield. But the lights and the power went out regardless. They are going to drag their heels on compensation and they are going to offer very small amounts, all of which is unacceptable. Businesses should be credited with 100% of what they lost as a result of their incompetence and inability to maintain the lines, which they have not done. They stated themselves that there was work due to be done and then they cancelled at the last minute. Regular maintenance is what is important. Maybe lines underneath the ground might solve a lot of their problems. There needs to be compensation. Hopefully, it will not go wrong again, but, when it does, we need a system in place that is far superior to what they have. We do not want a situation where I turn up at the water station and they refuse to give me a bottle of water even though they have it. No one wants that to happen again. It is obviously a disgrace and it should not happen again.

Q98 Chair: Jane, is there anything you wanted to add?

Jane Fowler: No, I do not think so.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming. We very much appreciate it. At the next stage we will be interviewing the power companies and we will produce a report at the end of the day. Thank you very much.

Prepared 31st January 2012