Yorkshire’s financing reforms teamed with bold operational service commitments

Ahead of the launch of a new long term strategy in January, Yorkshire Water last week made a series of bold commitments to improve its operational performance.

It said it would deliver before 2020:

  • a 40% cut in sewage pollution incidents

  • a 70% reduction in internal sewer floods

  • a two-thirds fall in the average interruption to supply

  • leakage cuts (figures yet to be confirmed).

Yorkshire will employ 300 more staff and make a substantial investment in technology to make good its promises. The former include 50 new leakage engineers (who will for the first time offer multiple free supply pipe repairs to customers), 30 skilled craftspeople and a range of other technicians including data scientists and analysts. A highlight of the latter will be 23,000 network monitoring devices which among other things will support the development of a ‘predict and prevent’ approach to maintenance.

The company added: “In what is believed to be a first in the water industry, Yorkshire Water is considering adopting an “open data” approach, allowing the growing Yorkshire based community of independent data scientists secure access to its data streams… to help find new and innovative solutions to pollution and leakage problems.”

Director of service delivery, Pamela Doherty, said the moves have been driven by listening to customers: “What they want from us is simple and clear. They want us to lose less water in leaks, minimise interruptions to their supply and reduce sewage escapes from our system. Above all, they don’t like the idea that a Yorkshire company isn’t currently one of the best in its sector.”

The actions also take place against the likely need to put in upper quartile performance after 2020 to earn outperformance rewards under PR19 methodology, and water companies coming under political pressure to deliver more for society and customers. In October, Yorkshire’s finance director Liz Barber announced a package of financial reforms including removal of offshore banking arrangements and deleveraging to around 70% by 2020.

The Consumer Council for Water indicated the “ambitious commitments from Yorkshire Water which we’ve been assured by the company will improve services without putting extra pressure on customers’ bills” should spur other companies to take similar legitimacy-enhancing decisions. Northern chair Robert Light said: “We hope other water companies will reflect on this and show the same intent and ambition to share the benefits of any efficiency or financial success with customers.”

Yorkshire said its new strategy follows dialogue with stakeholders about “how we fundamentally change our service for the future”. The company said at the heart of this will be a renewed focus on core water and wastewater services within the Kelda Group, with the disposal of non-regulated activities. The company recently sold its contract operations in Northern Ireland (LINK TO ROGER’S STORY) and further disposals are expected shortly.