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A big year for the water industry

By Michael Roberts, Chief Executive, Water UK

This year is a significant one for the water industry in a number of ways.

This is the year in which water companies in England and Wales agree their business plans for 2020 to 2025. Ofwat will have given their initial thoughts on the draft business plans by the time this edition of UW goes to press, but we are clear that the draft plans show an industry which is dynamic and passionate about delivering real benefits for customers, the environment and the country as a whole.

In 2018 we published a Manifesto for Water, which summarised the many benefits in the draft business plans, setting out the ambition of companies to do even more than before as long-term, responsible businesses. Companies consulted millions of customers to find out what mattered most to them, so that they could help shape the companies’ future commitments.

Our record as an industry over the last 30 years – cutting leakage, keeping bills affordable, and cleaning up rivers, has been very good – but the draft business plans take it up another level. Increasing investment by more than £50 billion, bills going down by more than 4 per cent in real terms, another 8,000 km of river improvements, and almost doubling the number of customers receiving help with their bills. These are clear examples of the way in which the industry is working in the public interest.

The water industry firmly believes that our purpose is to work for wider societal and environmental good, going beyond simply delivering our regulatory obligations. Individual companies have achieved a lot in this area, but after talking to millions of customers and many key organisations, we feel we can do even more. We are working together as an industry on what that looks like and the sorts of big commitments that can make a real difference to society and the environment, and we hope to provide more details soon.

And we cannot ignore Brexit, of course. Similar to other industries, we have been assessing the potential impact of Brexit – including a no-deal scenario – and we are taking the necessary actions to minimise disruption to customers and our water supply.

The public would expect no less of us. Research shows that water companies have high levels of public trust – nearly 90 per cent of customers say they trust their water company – but we don’t take that trust for granted. We work hard every day to ensure that the trust people place in companies is repaid, by making sure they have some of the safest, cleanest water in the world.

And whatever happens in the political sphere this year, we will continue to make the case for the success of the private water industry in England and Wales. But we won’t just use the proof of past achievements, although they are an important factor which should be seriously considered by anyone proposing radical change to the way water is managed. The industry has an ambitious vision for the future of water – one which puts customers right at the heart of everything that companies do.