December usually starts with the gentle twinkle of Christmas lights but, this year, started with the cold dark aftermath of Storm Arwen which wreaked havoc across Banff and Buchan.
The storm – said to be the worst seen in the area for generations – felled countless trees, damaged buildings, and led to the loss of electricity for many.
More than 130,000 households and businesses in Scotland were without power – including several without water and mobile signal.
At the time of writing – Sunday 5 December – I am still hearing, one by one, as the last few customers having their power restored, over a week after they lost it.
I spent most of that week reaching out to residents and businesses of Banff and Buchan, putting them in touch with Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), to ensure their faults were logged and ensuring they were getting decent updates and any welfare support they needed.
Communication wasn’t easy – as we have all become so dependent on having an internet or mobile signal.
I’d like to thank our fabulous British Armed Forces, who mobilised early last Thursday morning – within just hours of being requested by the Grampian Local Resilience Partnership.
They provided invaluable assistance, knocking on doors and providing welfare support on the ground.
I would also like to thank all the individuals and groups of volunteers who checked in on neighbours, opened up community halls and provided meals – among other services, including the all-important facility to charge phones and access WiFi!
Questions have been asked about the effectiveness of planning and preparedness, as well as the immediate response to the crisis, and I will be seeking answers to these questions.
But the number one focus last week was to engage with those who were still without power, particularly those most vulnerable.
During his visit to the area, UK Energy Minister, Greg Hands MP, confirmed that Ofgem would launch a review into the impact of Storm Arwen.
It was also announced on Friday that the previous £700 cap on total compensation would be lifted and that customers would receive £70 for every 12-hour period they were without power.
SSEN tell me that payments will be made by cheque as soon as practicable following restoration of power to all customers.
There is no need for customers to actively request these payments as they will be made automatically.
In addition to the above compensation, which SSEN are obligated by regulation to pay, they have said that reasonable accommodation and food costs incurred during the power outages will also be reimbursed.
Customers are asked to send receipts for such expenses to Storm.Payments@ssen.co.uk
By the time this column is published, everyone in Banff and Buchan should have their power restored but, if anyone still hasn’t had their power restored, please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org
As Storm Arwen was hitting us, we also heard news of the new ‘Omicron’ variant of the Covid-19 virus which has already brought the return of some travel restrictions, as well as measures to help accelerate the all-important vaccine booster programme.
I urge everyone to get their first, second and booster jabs as soon as they become eligible.
Booster jabs are now available to younger age-groups and sooner – 3-months after their second jab, reduced from 6-months previously.
Details on how to book a booster jab can be found on nhsinform.scot