Michael Roberts, Chief Executive of Water UK, spoke at the 16th annual City Conference on Wednesday 2 March.
After greeting attendees and thanking the industry for its warm welcome since taking up his post at the beginning of the year, Michael shared three personal observations to help frame the event’s discussions:
- Recognising the multiple relationships within the sector;
- The varying and significant nature of future challenges;
- The development of markets and regulation
On relationships, Michael highlighted that all players in the industry – be it customers, regulators or providers – have ‘mutual interest in [the] success of the ecosystem’. Each part of the sector depends on another; customer satisfaction depends on a successful business that operates within effective regulation. This improves public opinion and makes for an attractive sector for investors, thus funding further improvements for customers.
Michael also stated that the ‘sector’s evolution has sometimes been painful but that we have all learnt lessons’. He highlighted the importance of drawing on those lessons together in the face of future challenges.
Such future challenges will be varied, but equally significant. These challenges include:
- the enhancement of resilience of water and wastewater networks to deal with population growth and climate change;
- maintaining that the drive towards the development of markets and regulation is geared toward the ‘long term interests of customers’;
- ensuring that the sector has a smart design and enforcement of legislation on standards at both a national and European level;
- sustaining and enhancing the reputation of the sector among both customers and stakeholders.
Michael acknowledged that although all of these themes need to be kept at the front of mind, he would not be surprised if discussion at the event majored on one of them: development of markets and their regulation.
Moving on to his early overviews of water company positions, Michael emphasised the positivity of the sector’s swift progress toward debating concrete proposals on how to address the challenges facing the sector.
Highlighting the importance of common ground, Michael discussed how the sector should build on the success of customer engagement at PR14, preserve the key strengths of the sector, and continue to evolve and adapt the regulatory framework in a changing world.
To address these points, and answer any questions in the minds of companies and others, the sector will need to align in the run up to PR19. To help achieve this, Michael considered the importance of the continuing need to invest, the declining rate of efficiency gains over a number of AMPs, and the need to consider the questions raised by the recent PAC report.
In his concluding remarks, Michael recognised that the ‘sectoral landscape against which today’s conference is set is very broad’, but that the Water UK City Conference 2016 would attempt to cover as much of that landscape as possible.