Advisor calls for government and regulator measures to firm up water resilience

Evidence studied prior to the Covid pandemic shows the UK administration needs urgently to bolster infrastructure resilience according to the government’s infrastructure policy advisor.

In a recent report, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has warned that events from last year including heavy flooding and an extensive power failure were but a “glimpse” of the impact of conceivable natural and economic ruination.

The NIC said the Covid outbreak has demonstrated that “significant, high impact disruptions can and do happen,” but it was “too early to fully assess and learn lessons from the ongoing crisis.”

It went on assert that even the historic evidence which showed UK infrastructure’s “generally robust historic resilience” indicated that it could face challenges “by a range of factors that will not always be possible to foresee, alongside better understood challenges like climate change.”

In its report, Anticipate, React, Recover: Resilient Infrastructure Systems, the NIC has laid out proposals to upgrade the resilience in water and other infrastructure. It describes a staged introduction starting with transparent service level standards, stress testing for major incidents and clearer direction for utilities providers to invest in long-term resilience.

The NIC recommendations include:

  • government should publish a full set of resilience standards every five years, following advice from regulators, alongside an assessment of any changes needed to deliver them;

  • infrastructure operators should carry out regular and proportionate stress tests, overseen by regulators, to ensure their systems and services can meet government’s resilience standards and take actions to address any vulnerabilities; and

  • infrastructure operators should develop and maintain long term resilience strategies, and regulators should ensure their determinations in future price reviews are consistent with meeting resilience standards in the short and long term.

These measures, the NIC said, would require government in 2021 to:

  • ensure that Ofwat and other regulators have resilience duties (as recommended in the Commission’s regulation study);

  • introduce a statutory requirement for secretaries of state to publish resilience standards every five years, starting in 2022, alongside an assessment of where changes are needed to existing structures, powers and incentives to support the delivery of these standards; and

  • regulators would have to set out initial plans for stress tests.

In 2022 regulators would advise government on costs and benefits of different resilience standards and secretaries of state would publish the first resilience standards and assessment of changes to structures, powers and incentives.

In 2023 regulators would introduce new obligations on infrastructure operators, to ensure they:

  • meet government’s resilience standards;

  • undertake regular stress tests;

  • develop and implement plans to address vulnerabilities identified by stress tests; and

  • develop and maintain long term resilience strategies.

Before the end of 2024 regulators should ensure the first round of the new stress tests are complete.

And in future price controls regulators would need to ensure their determinations were consistent with meeting

resilience standards in the short and long term.