THOUSANDS of people are again waking up today to no electricity or heating as the impact of Storm Arwen continues to be laid bare across County Durham. Writing for The Northern Echo, Labour MP for Durham City Mary Foy asks why the Government did not act sooner.

If someone told me last week that 240,000 properties in North East England would be without power following a storm, I would never have believed them.

Our country should be well prepared for adverse weather and there are government departments responsible for dealing with emergency situations.

But, as we saw with the coronavirus pandemic and now the aftermath of Storm Arwen this Conservative Government seems incapable of taking swift, positive action - especially when it involves helping people north of the Watford Gap.

As the rain and winds eased on Sunday it was then that the true extent of the damage began to become clear.

Read more: DEHENNA DAVISON: We will beat this crisis says Bishop Auckland MP

Roads blocked by floods and fallen trees, roofs of homes and businesses caved in by falling debris, power cables ripped from their poles, water mains cut off and communities plunged in to freezing cold darkness.

Throughout Sunday, emails from concerned constituents from every corner of the constituency started to arrive.

They’d been without power for over a day and rightly wanted to know when it would be restored and what support was available.

I set to work and my team gave up their Sunday to help me to respond to desperate cries for help.

Frustratingly, we did not have much useful information to tell people as there was limited communications from Northern Powergrid who were reacting to a crisis and were completely overwhelmed.

Incredibly, there was nothing from the Government despite the extreme damage to the North East.

If the affected properties had been in the Home Counties, I’m sure the Prime Minister would have donned his wellies and visited immediately to see the damage and assure the public every effort was being made to restore power supplies.

We needed direct and decisive action from the Government with clear statements of how bad the situation was and how best to proceed, sadly this communication didn’t come.

As Monday morning rolled around cries for help were everywhere; constituents who relied on power supplies for medical reasons, to run businesses, to operate community centres, and yet still no major support came.

During an urgent call with Northern Powergrid they ran through the devastation the storm had caused.

Somehow the worst had missed the City of Durham constituency but there was still significant damage to our villages.

I highlighted areas of concern as soon as they were flagged to me by constituents, as well as the extremely vulnerable in desperate need.

I was updated by Durham County Council regarding their response to the storm which commenced on Saturday when Gold Command was activated, but I was still receiving contact from constituents claiming they’d seen no one apart from their councillors and neighbours, with no major support on the ground and unable to get through to call centres.

When it was clear how overwhelmed both Durham County Council and Northern Powergrid were, more tangible action should have been taken by central government.

We should have seen support in the form of the army helping to roll out generators to villages and towns where vulnerable residents were suffering and emergency funding should have been allocated to Durham County Council for a more sustainable local recovery effort.

Tuesday was an a blur of emails, social media messages and calls from desperate constituents, the same plea every time – “When will our power be restored?”

My team issued guidance to everyone who got in touch in and reassured them to ensure a sense of ‘calm’ remained across the constituency.

I watched in frustration as Tory MPs across the County posted on social media stating that they’d met with various ministers, yet I received nothing.

My constituents are just as important as those in neighbouring constituencies and their safety should be more important than ministerial photo opportunities and party politics.

On Wednesday, I got my chance to ask a question of the Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng.

He told me that the Government wanted to “make the situation much more comfortable than it is.”

For people living in Bearpark, Waterhouses, Sherburn Hill, and Low Burnhall, those words meant nothing.

They were facing a full week without power and the Government only cared enough to start talking about the devastation the storm had caused on day six.

I have been in constant contact with Northern Powergrid and Durham County Council over the past week, raising areas of concern and pressing for more to be done to support our communities.

I’m so grateful and thankful for the work communities have carried out, pulling together in these tough times to offer food, hot water, and safe spaces to stay.

I’ve also worked with businesses in the area to ensure additional support was available, with Hotel Indigo and Durham University kindly offering accommodation to those still without power.

I’m also grateful to the workers at Northern Powergrid who have worked non-stop to repair unprecedented levels of damage, sometimes in dangerous working conditions, yet managing to restore power to around 229,000 houses as of Thursday morning.

Also, not forgetting the actions of the fire and rescue service and other public agencies who worked for hours on end to make sure residents were safe.

Political inaction meant that local communities were left to support each other while this work was undertaken. Durham County Council only declared the situation a “major incident” on Wednesday, which for some of my constituents was day six without power.

It is clear that, across the board, lessons must be learned.


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