The power in Balham Town Centre failed again today, affecting a number of businesses and residents. I thought it worth a quick blog post to mention a recent meeting I had with UK Power Networks to discuss the situation.

The history
To give a brief history this is not the first time it has happened. Two years ago, around exactly the same time, Balham was hit by a series of power failures. Not an idea situation when many businesses are in their busiest trading period of the year. At that time I (well, the council’s Economic Development Office and Balham Town Centre Manager) organised a meeting with EDF, who were responsible for power supply.

It must rank among the most pointless meetings I’ve ever attended. The EDF representative hadn’t even bothered to brief herself on the situation, throughout most of the meeting she refused even to apologise, and when she finally did it felt like a non-apology. So when we organised another meeting I wasn’t confident – but, in fact, it was totally different.

The current situation.
UK Power Networks are now responsible for the supply, they turned up knowing the history, with maps of the supply network there and an idea of the problem. And they apologised up front, they recognise their job is to get power through their network and to people.

They believe the problem is cabling (that would ordinarily be expected to outlive me and most of the people reading this blog) damaged by the 2009-2010 transformer failures. Unfortunately they cannot confirm this until that cable is replaced. And replacing that cable is a major job, involving excavating virtually all the pavement.

A solution?
They are planning to replace the cabling early next year. Ordinarily they would need to give three months notice to the council, but will work with the council to organise timing that is as convenient as possible to businesses who have already been badly affected (the EDO is also talking to the relevant council department to see if we can get the notice period waived to increase the options).

They also expressed a willingness to be as open and helpful as possible to businesses if there are any problems, and certainly to do a better job than EDF did a few years ago.

If you are affected and want any more details please get in touch, either via the comments, email or speak to the Balham Town Centre Manager. I know it’s not an idea situation for anyone there, but I’m far more confident that a resolution is coming with UK Power Networks than I ever could be with EDF.

I’m definitely one of those Conservatives for whom the coalition has been a real eye-opener. I wasn’t keen when the talks were taking place, especially when it seemed that the Lib Dems were playing the two sides off against each other by holding talks with Labour. And the political animal in me just didn’t like the idea of power sharing. I hadn’t been tramping the streets for months on end to elect anything but a Conservative government.

But as time has passed I’ve become a real fan.

Part of it is because of my basic approach to politics. I’m not interested in power for power’s sake. It isn’t what motivates me, instead I’m there because I believe in some basic principles (low tax, freedom of the individual, a small state) and because I believe I can help by being part of the change towards that, but not because I have a particular desire for power.

It’s possibly principles that makes me such a coalition fan; it has to be based on principles, they are what bind the two partners together, as well as highlighting their differences so they maintain their individual characters. It is such a contrast from the Labour, for whom it seemed that gaining and retaining power was the emphasis of Blair and Brown.

And then we get things like Your Freedom. It will be years before we know how much government policy is being driven by the Conservatives and how much is being driven by the Liberal Democrats, but I can’t help but think that a lot of the civil liberty agenda is coming from the Lib Dems. And, if that’s true, thank God for them.

There is part of me that thinks it doesn’t go far enough. It’s all very well asking what legislation or regulations should be repealed, for example, I’ve never understood why we don’t make more use of sunset laws – so legislation has a defined life unless expressly extended (and, by implication, has a justification for that extension). However, it is a refreshing start and not just a civil liberty issue, but also an example of the big society, allowing people to play a part in the government.

I still can’t help but think it’s an incredibly exciting time for government and the country. There are huge challenges as a result of years of Labour mismanagement, but they will force us to focus on what’s really important for the nation and the area, but will also mean there are opportunities for people to directly be involved in the running of services.

I know that there will be groups who take responsibility for schools or services that I don’t like or agree with; that is an inevitable consequence of devolving powers to people. But even with that, it makes for a healthier and better society when people, not politicians, are the ones holding the power.

And extending that approach to government, perhaps it’s healthier when power has to be shared between two coalition partners than when it is held by a single party. I’m still a Conservative (and would probably still prefer a single party government) but I’m worrying I’m detecting distinct liberal tendencies in my advancing years.