THE worst storm I can remember in my 30 years in Argyll was the one that blew through in the early hours of January 3, 2012. Although lucky in terms of power outages – we were only without electricity for five hours – places a couple of miles further up Glendaruel were cut off for several days as repair crews battled to clear trees that had fallen on the line.

The lesson of that was not lost on the power companies for by the late spring work was under way to remove those trees which had not fallen but which still threatened supply, a task that seemed to have been long neglected. Such investment continues here in the west but clearly has not been taking place to a sufficiently rigorous standard in the east.

No-one could have anything other than admiration for the crews who have bravely and selflessly battled for many hours and days to restore services to those still cut off by Storm Arwen, but the management of the monopoly power companies (for that is what rising electricity prices have once again created) have some very serious questions to answer, and in particular why their infrastructure is not yet properly prepared for increasingly severe weather incidents.

Storm Arwen was particularly fierce in some places but worse has, and will, take place. The long-lasting outages that have resulted are utterly unacceptable, but so also is the implicit assumption that those who live in the most rural places must inevitably bear the brunt.

READ MORE: Ofgem launches review into energy network companies’ response to Storm Arwen

In fact, the opposite should be true. Just as the telecommunications suppliers got their roll-out wrong – they should have been forced to connect those most difficult to serve first – those providing essential services (which now means not only electricity, gas and water but also mobile phone and broadband) should be basing their preparations and plans on the needs of the most distant.

Customers at risk by reason of geography should be protected by a more resilient system ensuring to the greatest degree possible that they are secured from interruption and able to be restored quickly if cut off.

By so doing the providers will, happily, also be ensuring that those who draw their services from parts of the infrastructure closer to the centre are better protected as well.

Power companies’ present urban centricity can be seen in other ways too. I have a useless smart meter connected but not working and apparently fated never to do so, not because the local engineer hasn’t tried very hard (he has) but because the chaotically managed and woefully implemented system to instal these useful innovations has resulted in virtually non-existent coverage in more remote areas.

Some of the problem lies in UK centralised regulation. Often ridiculous rules mean, for example, that generating electricity and supplying it to the grid is more expensive the further you are from the South East of England. Even the Tory-dominated Scottish Affairs Committee accepted this was wrong, but the UK Government sidestepped their call for action.

All the utility companies want to maintain high profits, whilst UK regulators demand cheaper delivery solutions. This leads to an unhappy compromise in which robust protection of domestic supply to rural areas is the poor relation, whilst community need in those areas is largely ignored. That is a potent mix of injury and insult.

One of the few good things that seemed to be coming out of the pandemic was a stronger sense of localism. Here in rural Argyll communities were focused on cutting down on food miles, strengthening local suppliers and using national resources to meet local needs.

However, I have a sense that this gain is in danger of slipping away, with worrying signs that a centralised, business-as-usual approach is creeping back in both the public and private sectors.

That failure to think and act locally, with the requirements and wishes of local communities as the driving force, is at the heart of utility company management inaction on the increased threat of supply interruption.

It is also behind a new plan from Argyll and Bute Council which, during the worst of the pandemic, did a fantastic job in ensuring that money reached local business as quickly as possible and bent over backward to find flexible ways to assist.

However, this week’s educational proposals from the council give cause for concern. Only out now for consultation because of a local outcry when the Tory/LibDem coalition – which runs the council – tried to bulldoze them through, these recommendations would essentially remove local accountability and local focus by installing a single head teacher covering, in the case of Cowal, a dozen schools.

No matter the official claims being made in reality such a change would make families and children much more distant from decision-makers and less involved in decision-making, demotivate teachers, remove career opportunities and increase the power of bureaucrats based in the council HQ in Lochgilphead.

There isn’t a single piece of educational evidence that supports the plan and nothing in it that will improve individual educational outcomes.

READ MORE: Storm Arwen kills hundreds of seal pups on Scottish coast

This is the opposite of what should be happening. What is needed is true subsidiarity, a determination to ensure that decision-making involves, and is close to, all those affected by it. The backers of independence are always enthusiastic about that principle, given that subsidiarity is at the heart of the independence cause.

It should therefore be a central theme of next year’s local elections with the SNP at the heart of the offer, not least because it presents the opportunity for real, radical local government reform without the expensive redrawing of boundaries.

It is within the powers of existing councils to implement much more local decision-making through area committees and in conjunction with community councils.

Those invigorated local democratic structures, particularly in rural areas, could then call to account larger bodies – such as power companies and broadband suppliers – so that once again we can get power to the people, in every sense.