Utility Week

UTILITY Week 16th October 2015

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Customers 26 | 16TH - 22ND OCTOBER 2015 | UTILITY WEEK Interview Q: How have things changed over the past ten years? Dee Valley Water was very much an engi- neering and technical company. Now it's moving to being a customer-focused com- pany looking at not only returns to share- holders but returns to customers in terms of delivering a better service and lower prices. We've worked with them to understand their customers' needs more, particularly vulner- able customers, and how they engage with them. They've done that well. We've learned from working with Dyr Cymru on its various tariffs to help custom- ers with problems paying. We worked with them on those tariffs right at the beginning and they've delivered help to 67,000 custom- ers. But those tariffs are transitioning to new social tariffs. So the challenge is to make sure those customers have had help in the transition to the new tariff. Q: What are the specific challenges in Wales? One of the challenges in Wales is with the historic and geographical issue of water quality. There are on average more com- plaints from customers about taste, odour and discolouration in Wales. We know that's because of manganese in the raw water. Dee Valley introduced fantastic new facilities but there is manganese coating all the pipes and they need to be cleaned. That's a challenge because as they do the work there is going to be disruption and customers can suffer. They need to deal with things like that, get on top of them and let customers know what's going on. That's an underlying theme for me in the work that companies do, to really engage customers and let them know what's going on. There will be big challenges in future for Dyr Cymru on how much customers pay for their sewerage network. Taking rain water out of sewers is a huge challenge for the next 15-20 years. There is going to have to be a whole new way of thinking about dealing with wastewater. Q: What tips have you got for your succes- sor, Tom Taylor? I would say to him, we've had a great ten years at CCWater in Wales. We've achieved a tremendous amount but there's tons more to do. The companies have improved their performance considerably over that time but they have to improve it further in some priority areas and they have to maintain it. They've done well but I'd tell Tom there is more to do. Q: Will Welsh businesses miss out from not having retail competition from April 2017? We've said to the companies they've got to step up their game and ensure the customer service element and the other things on offer in the retail market are delivered to custom- ers without competition, so non-eligible customers are not let behind. Cus- tomers may not be able to swap but what we would want them to do is keep both companies as their first choice even if they could. That's the aspiration. They can't just bury their head in the sand and think it's not happening. They need to step up their game for their business customers. Q: Do you have any regrets and were there any things you were not able to achieve? No. I feel proud of what we achieved in Wales. I don't leave with a long list of things that I wish I could have done, but there is more to do and there is a list. I'm satisfied that is the action list for the committee and the new chair. I think we've punched above our weight. On the Welsh committee we've got £2.2 mil- lion back for customers in redress. I think we've done alright. The thing I set out to be was a critical friend. What I didn't ever want was to be crit- icising from afar. I'd rather speak truth from the beginning and expect people to come along with us, and the water companies in Wales have done that. Q: What is your fondest memory? It's been a fantastic ten years and one where I feel I've really been able to make a difference for customers. Customers are not generally aware of CCWater but I know behind the scenes we have made a difference. One particular thing that comes to mind is a farmer who was unable to sort out a problem and it had gone on for ages. We sorted it with Dyr Cymru in the end. He wrote me a letter, it was genuine and it said he'd had sleepless nights and that I had made a real difference to his life. I thought, that's why I do the job. It's a small example but it's what CCWater is there for. It's been a great ten years. It really has. Making a difference in Wales Diane McCrea has just stepped down after ten years as chair of the Consumer Council for Water's Welsh committee. She talks exclusively to Utility Week about a decade of consumer advocacy.

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