A wake-up call; the UK water industry is at a critical turning point.

Article by Paul Hubbard, Chairman AVK UK Group, and Group Management Board member at AVK Holding A/S.

A wake-up call; the UK water industry is at a critical turning point.

Recent coverage of the UK water sector in the national media has been almost universally negative: financial and commercial challenges; water leakage; dry spilling of sewage; water shortages and more. It is my experience, however, that all stakeholders in the sector are overwhelmingly motivated by a desire to deliver a world class water network for the citizens of the United Kingdom. This begs the question, what is stopping us all from achieving this?

I have noted below what I perceive to be some of the barriers to success.

Funding and Change

Since privatisation in 1989, the UK population has grown from 57 million to 67 million. This has put a strain on existing water resources, ageing pipe networks and treatment infrastructure. As a result, there have been calls in some quarters for higher water bills to fund an increase in mains replacement works and network maintenance.

From my perspective, however, increasing water bills significantly won’t wash politically at a time of economic hardship. Furthermore, given the recent failings as outlined in my introduction, as an industry we have first to prove we are responsible guardians of the existing investment funds we receive.

Away from the bright City financial lights and media commentary, we need to refocus on our core task of collectively delivering a quality water and wastewater network that meets the needs of all customers, be they domestic or commercial. The public wants to see proof that more of their cash is being allocated to infrastructure investment and not to funding shareholder dividends.

If UK water companies embrace the knowledge, expertise and creativity within the supply chain, adopt a more collaborative approach to engagement, and move away from the claustrophobic short-termism inherent in current tendering processes to a more strategic model, then I believe that, together, we can deliver water and wastewater networks that are fit for purpose.

At the heart of this ‘brave new world’ is the need for change. Change is never an easy option, as any manager knows. However, as Bill Clinton is quoted as saying, the price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.

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