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Twenty years in the making

Source: Public Sector Executive June/July 2014

They say ‘good things come to those who wait’ and it feels like we’ve been waiting a long time for legislation to establish a competitive water market in England, argues Bob Wilson, director of Anglian Water Business, who explains how rather than waiting the company has been actively shaping the market and laying the foundations for what’s to come.

By the time most businesses in England get the benefits of being able to switch water supplier it will have been 20 years since Anglian Water really took the lead in creating a competitive market. That was back in 1997, when we bought Hartlepool Water and attempted to offer customers a choice to the existing monopoly suppliers through the mechanisms available at the time.

Since then, under a number of guises, we have tried and tested different means of competing. We were the first to obtain a licence to challenge the incumbent when competition came to Scotland in 2008, gaining invaluable experience of transferring customers and refining our service offering.

The evidence suggests we’ve got it right as we haven’t lost a customer in Scotland yet, despite the recent flurry of new entrants.

Creating Anglian Water Business as our dedicated retail arm three years ago was another major step forward. Putting the systems in place to operate effectively in different markets means we’ve been able to provide a one-stop shop for customers on both sides of the border.

Continuing to plan ahead, we recently held a roundtable bringing together leaders from the water industry, regulators and customers to discuss retail competition. This centred on the expectations of public sector customers, putting service, sustainability and value at the top of the agenda.

It’s these intrinsically-linked priorities that keep driving us to develop new ways of helping customers. For example, our active water management service takes away the hassle to customers of monitoring their own water use and finding ways to reduce it.

Using a variety of techniques, we monitor and analyse consumption helping to ensure customers only use, and pay for, what they need to.

Even in the well performing estate of HMP Eastern Region – known to be the most efficient of all the prison estates – our active water management service is identifying ways to reduce costs further. What’s more, reducing water use has carbon benefits too, especially when water is chilled, heated or pumped.

We musn’t forget that sustainability means more than environmental protection, it’s also about mitigating risk for your organisation. Peterborough City Council’s long-term vision of sustainable water use centres on the city being resilient to water scarcity and flooding.

We’ve been working with the council to help shape its environmental action plan and set short-term targets to make this vision become a reality.

The old adage that you can’t manage what you can’t measure certainly holds true, so the starting point for becoming more water efficient is to get a handle on where and how it’s used. For Peterborough City Council this meant determining a baseline for water use and related carbon for over 200 properties. Already there have been significant savings found, including 23 sites with suspected underground leakage.

Smart metering or automated meter reading (AMR) is another approach, which gives the customer direct control through visibility of detailed consumption data. Paul Bonello, who manages the facilities for Suffolk County Council, is a keen advocate, telling us that on average for every £1 spent on smart metering they get back £10 in savings. 

We don’t shy away from the fact that helping customers to be more water efficient is a win-win for them and us. Anglian Water has just become the first water company in the world to achieve the Carbon Trust’s Water Standard. In 2012-13, the company put the lowest amount of water into supply for over 25 years, despite a 20% growth in population in that time. This was achieved by driving down leakage and encouraging customers to use less.

Public bodies in England may feel like there’s little scope to get better value from their water supply until choice arrives in 2017. However, taking steps to measure, manage and reduce your water use now will bring benefits for the public purse and for the environment.

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