Companies pledge to do more as they report back on freeze thaw

Water companies individually, and collectively through Water UK, last week submitted details to Ofwat of how they are improving their response to future extreme weather related events.

The trade body reported that individual company action falls under three broad categories:

  • planning and preparation – carrying out preparedness exercises, with lessons learnt from recent events; enhancing leakage detection; and updating modelling scenarios;

  • stakeholder and customer engagement – reviewing the effectiveness of communication strategies; understanding what worked well in the deployment of alternative water supplies; and improving communications to customers ahead of the winter; and

  • incident response – working proactively and collaboratively with multi-agency partners such as local resilience forums, and with the supply chain, to maximise the deployment of resources and facilitate a stronger response across a larger numbers of affected customers.

Water UK also identified priorities for further, collective action to complement what is already being done by companies:

  • agreeing an industry approach to planning for supply risk associated with extreme weather-related incidents;

  • improving the arrangements by which companies make provision for alternative water supplies;

  • improving the robustness of arrangements under which bulk supplies are provided between companies;

  • improving engagement with affected customers;

  • sharing insights on the use of big data to understand network performance better; and

  • enhancing customer-side resilience.

This work will be overseen by a newly-formed Operations Strategy Group comprising senior operations leaders from water companies. The group will publish a quarterly progress report and a fuller 12-month review of what has been achieved will be carried out by the end of September 2019.

Ofwat’s review into company performance during the February/March 2018 freeze thaw, published in June, found a mixed picture, with some companies responding well and protecting customers, but others falling short with their advance planning, response and communication with customers. Ofwat said four companies in particular had let their customers down – Thames Water, Severn Trent, Southern Water and South East Water – and these were specifically required to submit a detailed, externally assured action plan. Ofwat will now scrutinise the companies’ plans and intends to publish a response by mid-November.

Tony Smith, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “Water companies need to prove that they have listened to consumers and really learned lessons from the service failures we witnessed in March. Customers will want to know that these plans are tested and ready, and we’ll be expecting a tough response from Ofwat should any of the company plans fail, or further problems occur in future.”

CC Water last week published a good practice guide, Vulnerability in the water sector: Informing, supporting and protecting consumers, to help water companies improve the way they deliver priority support to consumers in vulnerable circumstances specifically.