Kwasi Kwarteng – 2022 Statement on Storm Eunice

The statement made by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in the House of Commons on 21 February 2022.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the electricity disruptions as a result of Storm Eunice and set out exactly how we are working to ensure that power is restored to people’s homes as quickly as possible. Storm Eunice brought severe weather, including wind gusts of up to 122 mph. That is among the highest speeds ever recorded in England. The Met Office took the unprecedented step of issuing a double red weather warning for Friday. Ensuing hurricane-force winds have caused extensive damage to buildings and trees. They have also caused power outages and widespread travel delays. After a day of disruption caused by Storm Eunice on Friday, Storm Franklin made landfall last night. It must be remembered in this difficult time that four people have tragically lost their lives in incidents related to the storms. My thoughts, and I am sure the thoughts of the whole House, are with the families and friends who have lost loved ones.

The Met Office estimates further strong gusts today, though not on the same scale as Storm Eunice. Some people, particularly in the south and east of England, have been without power for more than 72 hours. I want to reassure them that we have dedicated teams of engineers working night and day to get them reconnected as soon as possible. Continuing poor weather conditions have hampered those efforts, but I am pleased to say that, as of now, over 98% of those affected by the storms—more than 1.4 million customers—have had their power supply restored. However, as of 4 o’clock today, just under 30,000 households are still without power.

Today, the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), has been in Sevenoaks in Kent to see the impact of the storm and to observe repairs. This weekend, I spoke directly to leaders at Scottish and Southern Energy Networks, and today I had conversations with leading managers at UK Power Networks and Western Power Distribution. They have given me assurances that restoration is happening as quickly as possible. The UK has been particularly badly hit by storms this year, but I am pleased to say that overall, our network operators and our brave emergency services have learned lessons about how we can improve our response, and we will continue to learn those lessons.

When I commissioned the review into our response to Storm Arwen in November, I made it clear that the very long delays some people faced to be reconnected were unacceptable. I am pleased to say that, where practical, network operators have already implemented improvements to their procedures. Additionally, operators are sharing resources and ensuring that engineers are sent to the worst affected areas. Welfare provisions are in place for those who are most in need, particularly the vulnerable members of our communities. Network operators are engaged with local partners to ensure that people are being supported. Catering units are travelling to badly hit areas, and smaller welfare units are providing hot water and other facilities to people who are adversely affected. I am extremely grateful to the network operators and the emergency responders who have been working very hard to keep people as comfortable as possible. I am aware that during Storm Arwen, the people experiencing the worst effects of the devastation had difficulty in communicating, and that people are still experiencing issues today. However, I am pleased to say that if they call their network operator by dialling 105 from their mobile, they should get a speedy response. That action will automatically route them to the right operator based on their physical location.

I believe this is the first time that three named storms have come in such quick succession, day after day, since the storm-naming convention was introduced a little less than a decade ago. This is a difficult time for many, but I have been reassured that operators are working extremely hard to make sure people are reconnected as quickly as possible, and in the next couple of days at the latest. My Department and I will continue to provide support and apply pressure, where needed, to ensure people are reconnected in a timely way.