Joint Committee on Draft Civil Contingencies Bill Written Evidence

Memorandum from CE Electric UK

  CE Electric UK is one of the largest electricity distribution businesses in the United Kingdom. Operating through its subsidiaries Northern Electric Distribution Ltd and Yorkshire Electricity Distribution plc, it serves 3.6 million customers throughout the North East, Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.

  We are grateful for the opportunity to comment on the Government's proposals. CE Electric UK and its predecessor companies have for many years played an active part in emergency planning and in co-ordinated response to emergencies at both the local and national level. Our experience in dealing with the aftermath of bad weather and other emergencies, from heavy snowfall to flooding, has given us a wide range of knowledge that is relevant to the current consultation. We have made our views known at the regional workshops run by the Cabinet Office and welcome this opportunity to comment direct.

  We do not have comments on all the questions raised in the consultation. Indeed, in the absence of sight of the proposed secondary legislation it is difficult to make informed comment on what is a very broad framework with a great deal of flexibility at the local level. (Indeed, this is one of our concerns.) We have endeavoured to set our response in the context of the specific questions raised.

  Q1.  We note that the Bill extends the definition of emergency to include major disruptions of energy. The energy industries have for many years maintained their own contingency planning for emergencies, working with the DTI and before that the Department of Energy. In the case of electricity companies, this is governed by the relevant legislation and regulatory licences. There is a distinction to be drawn between emergencies where loss of electricity supply is a relevant part but not the primary problem and those that are primarily one of loss of supply.

  An example of the former would be a major flood or terrorist attack, where the safeguarding and restoration of electricity supply is an important part of the return to normality, but where it inevitably has to take second place, for example, to the safeguarding of human life or a police investigation. In such circumstances, the framework established by the draft Bill is clearly the most sensible way to establish priorities and deliver actions in a coordinated manner.

  On the other hand, an emergency that is purely or largely one simply of loss of electricity supply (such as the recent power outages in the North Eastern United States and London) may well need handling in a different way. Restoring power in such circumstances or after a hurricane needs careful work and a great deal of technical skill. In order to return the power supply to normal to as many customers as possible as quickly as possible (and thereby minimise in aggregate the threat to human life and welfare), it may be necessary to carry out power restoration in an order that does not restore the neediest first. To attempt to operate in any other way could jeopardise the orderly restoration of power by creating further blackouts.

  In such circumstances, the role of the emergency services, the police and local authorities should therefore be one of dealing with the consequences of the outage rather than in directing the power restoration itself. This is recognised in current arrangements, but there is a danger under the proposed arrangements that the Bill may place responsibility inappropriately for dealing with the restoration of power itself. This needs further consideration.

  Q2.  We are content in general with the obligations imposed on Category 1 and 2 responders. However, one aspect not covered as yet by the draft Bill is the need to protect confidential information. Information may need to be provided that is confidential, either for reasons of commercial confidentiality or because it has security implications. The Bill itself (rather than regulations made under the Bill) needs to provide for the designation of certain information as confidential and for a duty on those in receipt of that information to keep it confidential unless otherwise agreed by the provider.

  Q3.  We support the inclusion of utility companies in Category 2, subject to the points made in answer to Question 1 above.

  Q4.  It is difficult to answer this question in the absence of sight of the detail of the regulations. Our main concern in this area is that, as an electricity distribution business whose activities cover a considerable number of local authority areas, we will be required to provide information to each of these areas (and probably to each Category 1 agency) to enable them to develop their plans. This is likely to require a substantial resource. Whilst recognising the need to provide this information, the process needs to be as streamlined as possible and a consistent approach needs to be adopted. This applies as much to the format of locally specific information (such as the location of substations) as to more generic information (such as company emergency planning arrangements). We therefore see a role for the Regional Resilience Forums to coordinate the nature and format of information required at the local level within their region.

  Q5.  See the answer to Question 4 above.

  Q6.  From the answer to Question 4 above, it is clear that, for utility companies whose area of operations encompasses a number of local authority areas, the cost identified in the RIA has been grossly underestimated. The amount of effort required will depend on the degree of preparation already carried out by the local authority or other agency concerned (and this varies markedly from one to another). But in broad terms, the cost identified per company needs to be multiplied by the number of Category 1 responders the company needs to provide information to the liaise with.

  Q7-Q9.  No comments.

  Q10.  The points made above in relation to an electricity-specific emergency are also relevant here. It is quite possible for a power outage to affect a larger geographical area that that covered by a single local authority (eg the recent power outage in the US or the storm in October 2002). Regional planning and a regional response, coordinated across a number of different local authority areas could well be needed. But, as at the local level, it is important to separate responsibility for returning supply to normal (which must rest with the electricity distribution and transmission companies) from that of dealing with the consequences of the outage. It goes without saying that despite the separation of responsibilities close co-operation and working would be needed.

  Q11.  We agree that the principle of special legislative measures based on the regions makes good sense, as it allows the targeting of resources from central government towards the areas directly affected.

  Q12.  Yes. We agree that the framework needs updating.

  Q13.  Subject to the points made above, we agree with the widening of the circumstances in which special legislative measures may be taken.

  Q14.  We support the use of special legislative measures on a sub-UK basis.

  Q15-Q23.  No comments.

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