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Improving the environment, increasing trust

Water companies in England are fully on board with the reform programme proposed by industry regulator Ofwat and the Government’s ambitious environmental agenda, as companies look to boost trust in the sector and enhance their role in working in the public interest.

The support for the changes was set out as Environment Secretary Michael Gove wrote to Ofwat’s chairman Jonson Cox to say that he was pleased to hear of companies’ support for Ofwat’s approach.

Senior figures from the water industry met Mr Gove on Monday 16 April 2018 ahead of his letter to Ofwat.

The commitment by the industry comes as it is revealed that more than 8 out of 10 people say they trust their water company, according to recent research by polling company ComRes. Companies have even higher trust ratings on key areas of service, such as providing good quality water and dealing with sewage responsibly. Opinions on other aspects of the water industry, while still showing high levels of trust, offer more room for improvement.

At the meeting with the Secretary of State, water company leaders explained that:

  • legitimate concerns had recently been raised by the Secretary of State and others which, while not equally applicable to all companies, were affecting the reputation of the sector as a whole;
  • action is already being taken on issues of concern, such as the use by some companies of offshore financing structures. Anglian Water, Southern Water, Thames Water and Yorkshire Water are at an advanced stage of closing down their Cayman Island entities, and are due to complete the process this year;
  • they all fully support the wider programme of financing and governance reform set out last week by Jonson Cox in a letter to the Environment Secretary. They are firmly committed to working at pace with Ofwat to work on the detail and agree the final shape of the proposals;
  • they are committed to work with Government, regulators and stakeholders in developing the measures and policies needed to deliver the ambitions in the Government’s 25 Year Plan for the environment. Water companies will submit their next five-year business plans by this September, setting out how they will further improve the environmental quality of rivers and beaches, reduce leakage and the numbers of serious pollution incidents, and improve the resilience of water supplies.

Commenting on today’s developments, Water UK Chief Executive Michael Roberts said:

“Water companies take their responsibility to work in the public interest very seriously. Research shows that there are high overall levels of trust in the industry, but there is more to do on financial issues and the environment where about three out of four people trust us to get things right. Companies fully support the need to resolve concerns about financing and governance arrangements in the sector, and are already taking swift action.

“We also want to build on our past investment of billions to deliver cleaner beaches and rivers, by investing in further improvements and taking action such as the industry’s free drinking water initiative, which aims to cut plastic bottle use by tens of millions a year.”

Water UK Communications
0207 344 1805

Note to editors

Attendance at Defra meeting

Water industry figures who attended the meeting with the Environment Secretary Michael Gove, and Water Minister Thérèse Coffey on Monday 16 April 2018 were;

  • Sir Brian Bender, Chairman - Water UK;
  • Michael Roberts, Chief Executive - Water UK;
  • Simon Cocks, Chief Executive - Affinity Water;
  • Richard Flint, Chief Executive - Yorkshire Water;
  • Liv Garfield, Chief Executive - Severn Trent Water;
  • Mel Karam, Chief Executive - Bristol Water;
  • Chris Loughlin, Chief Executive - South West Water;
  • Ian McAulay, Chief Executive - Southern Water;
  • Steve Mogford, Chief Executive - United Utilities;
  • Heidi Mottram, Chief Executive - Northumbrian Water;
  • Phil Newland, Chief Executive - South Staffs Water;
  • Steve Robertson, Chief Executive - Thames Water;
  • Nick Salmon, Chairman - South East Water;
  • Colin Skellett, Chief Executive - Wessex Water;
  • Peter Simpson, Chief Executive - Anglian Water

Trust in water companies

A recent opinion poll by ComRes for Water UK provided the following results;

  • 83% of people trust their water company overall
  • 89% of people trusted their water company to provide a reliable service
  • 89% of people trusted their water company to provide good quality of water
  • 89% of people trusted their water company to take away sewage and deal with it responsibly
  • 81% of people trusted their water company to fix water pipe leaks
  • 76% of people trusted their water company to pay an appropriate amount of tax
  • 75% of people trusted their water company to protect and improve the environment
  • 71% of people trusted their water company to invest a sufficient amount of money in the water network
  • 68% of people trusted their water company to provide value for money

Methodology: ComRes interviewed 2,051 GB adults aged 18+ between 19th and 20th February 2018. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

Drinking water initiative

The Refill drinking water initiative which Water UK announced in January will help contribute to the Government’s 25-year environment plan, cutting plastic bottle use by tens of millions each year by creating a national network of refill stations where people can top up their reusable water bottles for free. Companies have committed to draw up actions plans by September 2018, with the aim of having a network of tens of thousands of Refill points in place by 2021. The sector is also supporting a programme of research into microplastics.

Environmental record

Since 1989 water companies in England and Wales have spent around £150 billion improving pipes, pumping stations, sewers and treatment centres, and continue to invest around £8 billion a year in the water network. Two thirds of UK beaches are now classed as excellent compared with less than a third 25 years ago, due to the improvements water companies have made in treating sewage and stopping it polluting waterways. Water companies have also reduced leakage by a third since the 1990s, and continue to make it one of their top priorities.

By 2020 the industry will have invested around £25 billion into environmental work, putting in more advanced treatment methods to improve the quality of our water sources. River quality is improving rapidly. Around 10,000 miles of UK rivers have been improved and protected since 1995.

Michael Gove's letter to Jonson Cox

The letter can be accessed here.