Utility Week

UTILITY Week 19th June USE

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10 | 19TH - 25TH JUNE 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Interview Looking to the future, and the challenges ahead for Water UK when it loses its original chief executive, Taylor emphasises that being seen as a listener and a body that can broker agreements rather than being able to fight a corner will be particularly important over the course of a parliament where there is such a tiny ruling majority. "Governments with small majorities tend to avoid pri- mary legislation," she explains. "They tend to want to do things through agreements, through codes of practice or whatever else. So, looking ahead, we as Water UK need to think about how we position ourselves to be that kind of player." Sharing a few more thoughts on what her successor might need to address – though steering clear of sending a "message" to the as yet unidentified candidate – Taylor says they should not be concerned by the lack of noise with regard to water in party manifestos – especially the Conservatives' – which she says is the product of quiet continuity rather than ignorance. She does warn, however, that the prospect of a refer- endum on UK membership of the EU will need careful attention. "We have been talking in Water UK, since before we knew what the outcome of the election would be, about what impact that may have on the sector and therefore on its customers," she says. Taking steps to ensure it can accommodate any refer- endum outcome and still maintain a presence in Euro- pean decision making on water strategy, Water UK is reopening its Brussels office and placing staff on second- ments to other European water bodies such as EurEau. "There will be an impact if there's a yes vote and there will be an impact if there's a no vote – what might those impacts be and how will they affect the sector? What will the impacts be in existing EU directives and on future ones? "It's a classic, isn't it? How do you maintain influence whether you are close to or further away from the table?" asks Taylor. "This has been in our scenario planning for some time, but it would need to be stepped up now." Closer to home, another major consideration for the next chief executive of Water UK will be the progress of market opening. In its new guise, Water UK will steer clear of praising or condemning decisions about the structure of the new, competitive non-domestic market for water. But it will need to work closely with Ofwat to develop and deliver workshops and insight into key topics. Some, focusing on finance, are already available. As the date for market opening draws nearer, Taylor says the pressure to achieve successful collaboration and co-ordination of stakeholders will mount. "Everyone – companies, regulators, government, customers' reps – we know there's a lot to be done. We'll have to work together really well and successfully in order to land it. It will be the greatest challenge to this sector that I've seen in my time." That may well be true, but for Water UK, market opening also holds out an alluring opportunity to sig- nificantly expand its membership, embracing the new entrants that are anticipated. The trade body has already welcomed SSE Water into its fold – is it actively courting other potential competitors? "As a staff team, we do scenario planning a great deal," says Taylor. "So, in our minds, we had retail as part of Water UK in our planning seven years ago. "The important thing is always to be open to ideas, open to challenges, open to 'what if ' and not to think that you've got some kind of right or responsibility to keep Water UK as it is. "If I had to say no to your question, I would have been failing in what I'm here to do. It's all part of the planning that we do a great deal of." This leads us to the only really firm criterion for the next leader of Water UK – they must be able to engage in "horizon scanning" and guarantee that the organisation is never subject to unexpected upsets. It's a tough requirement to live up to, but one that Taylor counts as the foremost success of her own career. "[My] achievement has been to do that. To not have any surprises. Not to have to say, 'Oh no! Look what the government has decided to do' or 'Oh no! Look how that directive has gone and we didn't expect that'. "If you're surprised [as chief executive], then you've really not done what you should do. And you've not done the role that this is. Here you are in a very privileged and important position. You have a lot of access to a lot of senior people: ministers and secretaries of state, com- missioners in Brussels, and so on. "So the role is really to be looking ahead, scanning the horizon and knowing what's coming down the line and whether it's good or bad. It's making sure that it's not a juggernaut and you have to jump out of the way. But instead, to ensure that you've already known that it's coming and positioned the sector accordingly." So nothing has caught you on the back foot? "No." This carefully composed statement of confi- dence is eyebrow-raising when you consider a career that has taken Taylor through such turbulent times as the Section 13 debacle of 2012, but it is a claim that sits easily with her equally composed professional demeanour. As we turn to discussing her personal horizons, how- ever, it seems there's a blind spot. "I have absolutely no idea," admits Taylor, when asked what she will do aer stepping down as chief executive. "The trouble is that I don't remember that I'm going. There's still so much going on in terms of the com- mitment – and I tend to be a very overcommitted kind of person." Pouring praise on the water sector, Taylor continues, "I have had one or two offers, but the trouble is that water is so interesting – it's got everything: finance, cus- tomers, consumers, environment, public health. And you think, well – match that!" With an eclectic professional track record, however, it seems pretty likely that something tempting and chal- lenging will crop up. Before joining Water UK, Taylor headed up the BBC's corporate affairs team and under- took management consulting with organisations includ- ing the NHS, the World Health Organization and the Design Council. She's also had experience setting up charities "from scratch" – the Foundation for Aids and Help the Hos- pices – and is a trustee for a number of others. It's this final line of voluntary work that is most likely to occupy her in retirement, says Taylor, but today, the only thing she's sure of is that she will draw a firm line under her time at Water UK when the time comes to walk out the door. "I forget constantly that I'm leaving – but I promise once I've le… there's nothing worse than people who stick around. Just go." "Governments with small majorities tend to avoid primary legislation. They want to do things through agreement"

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