Utility Week

Utility Week 13th February 2015

Utility Week - authoritative, impartial and essential reading for senior people within utilities, regulators and government

Issue link: https://fhpublishing.uberflip.com/i/461284

Contents of this Issue


Page 6 of 31

UTILITY WEEK | 13TH - 19TH FEBRUARY 2015 | 7 Interview A pparently, the phone call was pretty straight forward. Offer made: offer accepted. As simple as that. That is how Jacob Tompkins – managing director of water efficiency nongovernmental organisation Water wise and outspoken critic of Ofwat – says it went when the regulator offered him the job of chairing its new resilience working group. So what's going on here? Is the outspoken Tompkins being brought inhouse and under control by Ofwat? Not in the slightest, he says, sipping from his cup of tea, as he sits down with Utility Week shortly aer the announcement of his appointment. In many people's eyes, Tompkins is not a natural fit for the job, which entails working closely with the regu lator as it pulls together its framework for the next price review, PR19. However, following on from the launch of Ofwat's dialoguefriendly strategy, Trust in Water, he sees himself as the ideal man for the job. To understand why, we need to know as much about the job as about the man. The scope of the working group's task is uncertain, but the starting point is clear: the resilience duty was laid on Ofwat by the Water Act last year. However, there are as yet no terms of reference for the working group to adhere to, and no defined end point either. This is what Tompkins' group needs to establish. And needs to estab lish soon, because he expects the group to start feeding into the PR19 process before the end of the year. Ofwat's Trust in Water strategy (see box), which was launched in January, is the highlevel framework that everything in the water sector will fit into. The key ele ment the regulator is pushing is dramatically increased customer engagement, which should feed into company business plans for PR19. This is part of the inclusive approach set out by the regulator and its chief executive, Cathryn Ross. She is eager for the industry to develop on the principlesbased regulation used for PR14 and give companies the "flexi bility" to do the right thing for customers, based on what customers say they want. The resilience working groups were described as a "great exemplar" of this new strategy of discussion and dialogue. Resilience is a term that gets used a lot by water folk. It is a suitably importantsounding but vague word that can be used to reassure the public without anyone nail ing down what it really means. Conferences have been devoted to the subject of just what is resilience. This is where Tompkins – never one to hold his tongue when talking about the regulator, or any part of the industry – comes into play, although his definition of resilience doesn't seem so helpful on first passing. "Resilience is whatever customers want it to be." This may sound vague too, but is the nub of why Ofwat has asked a man who has been a thorn in its side to chair the resilience working group. He gets people talking. However, before the talking can start in earnest, the group currently being pulled together by Ofwat and Tompkins needs to know what to talk about. "Those first couple of meetings are going to be about defining what we're doing and what we actually mean," he says. With just a year to go before results are needed, the pressure is already mounting on Tompkins to get a handle on what the enigmatic term "resilience" actually means. Is he worried? Not in the slightest. "It's going to be fun," Tompkins says with a wry smile. Even without a clear path, he knows what he is aiming for, and how he is going to get there. "My job is to provoke, prod, and get opinions from other people. To effectively derive a collegiate position, or range of positions," he says, placing emphasis on "collegiate". That is Tompkins' aim. No set agenda. No defined out come or end point. It is all about the process. "I don't want it to be one of those closed, lookatus, highlevel working groups. We will ask widely for evi dence. I'm quite keen to do a tweetathon and things like that to get the wider public view. "You can't pretend it's about customers. It actually has to be about customers." He doesn't even seem to care whether the working group's views are accepted or rejected. In fact, rejection and opposition are welcomed. "The papers we put out could be completely wrong and people may come back and tell us – but that's good because it will engender more dialogue." Perhaps aware that he is sounding very close to the Ofwat line, Tompkins adds: "What I want is a dialogue

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Utility Week - Utility Week 13th February 2015