The report, published today, by the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee in response to the Water White Paper is right to highlight the areas of reform and innovation, according to industry body Water UK.
Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive of Water UK, said of the report:
“Reform and innovation, along with quality and service, have long been the drivers of the water industry. Water is one of our greatest resources, yet it is often undervalued. It is imperative that we reform the relationship we have with water and harness innovation.
“The Select Committee’s recommendations are timely and Water UK looks forward to continuing its work with the government and with regulators to bring about effective change which benefits customers and investors.”
While the water industry actively supports and embraces reform, some areas, such as helping those who struggle to pay their bills or creating new markets, require government intervention.
Water companies are already doing what they can to help those who are finding it difficult to pay their bills. The Select Committee’s recommendation to provide even greater and more timely support to those customers on means-tested benefits echoes that of water companies which do not currently have access to that information. Water UK is also pleased to see the Select Committee make a distinction between those hard-pressed households who are struggling to pay their bills and those who are wilfully withholding payment. Bad debt currently adds around £15 to the average annual household water bill, a situation which the Select Committee rightly say is unacceptable. Legislation to tackle this problem is long overdue.
Water UK fully supports reform to create an Anglo-Scottish water retail market, giving choice to business customers. While Water UK shares the Select Committee’s desire for ambition, it is also important that any timescale for implementation should also be achievable. Water UK has already begun to engage with partners and stakeholders to investigate the challenges and opportunities such reform may bring.
The water industry has always been at the vanguard of innovation and has championed new ways of working in order to preserve our precious natural resources. Water UK has long held that the way in which water is collected, treated and managed must be sustainable, but it must also have public health as its priority. While the water industry recognises the Select Committee’s concerns over the speed of abstraction reform, reforming the planning process is complex and will take time. The emphasis should be on getting the reform right, rather than imposing artificial timescales. The industry looks forward to working with Defra, regulators and local authorities on possible ways of developing sustainable urban drainage systems.
The water industry broadly supports rainwater recycling, provided that appropriate and robust measures are taken to ensure that public health continues to be protected. Clear codes of practice are needed and accreditation schemes would promote qualified installers and plumbers to ensure that wholesome water systems and recycled water systems are kept separate.
Water UK looks forward to the imminent publication of the Draft Water Bill to take these plans for reform to the next stage.