Utility Week

UTILITY Week 27th May 2016

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6 | 27TH MAY - 2ND JUNE 2016 | UTILITY WEEK People & Opinion The water market must work for customers It is up to water companies to communicate the benefits of competition to customers. Chief executive's view Johanna Dow, chief executive, Business Stream T here are now less than 12 months to go until the Eng- lish non-domestic water market opens and just the sum- mer between now and shadow operations. Aer years of delib- eration and preparation, the prospect of competition in this sector is beginning to feel like a reality rather than a distant dot on the horizon. Many of the mechanics for how the market will operate have been agreed and market participants, customers and other stakeholders are beginning to see the foundations for the market taking shape. If this pace is maintained, then we can have more confidence as an industry that we will achieve the critical milestones necessary to open the market in April next year. That said, we and others do remain concerned that certain issues such as the level of retail margins and lack of standardi- sation or harmonisation across regions will be problematic. As with any competitive market, the aim is to deliver financial savings, service and innovation benefits to customers: something that can only be delivered in a fair and effective marketplace. We must continue to focus on customers as the finishing touches are applied to the Eng- lish water market. It is all too easy to become fixated on tech- nical industry-centric details, and we need to keep reminding ourselves why we are doing this. While the prospect of competi- tion is something we all take for granted, it's clear that many businesses and other organi- sations do not yet realise the changes that are coming, nor their significance. In the coming months we will be ramping up our efforts to engage with existing and potential customers about what is happening and what it means for them. If the benefits of the new market are to be realised, businesses need to be prepared and able to take advantage of the opportunities available. In our efforts to help customers get switch-fit, we have been high- lighting four key issues: 1. Understanding their current water usage and wastewater pro- duction, including volumes and costs. 2. Future business and opera- tional factors which may impact on water usage, such as changes in production or investment in new facilities. 3. Reviewing trade efflu- ent arrangements to ensure that these are current and appropriate. 4. Supplier and service require- ments – such as customer ser- vice, added-value products or services and account manage- ment support. The first three in particular are data driven. Many organisa- tions and businesses will be una- ware of the volume of services they consume and the associ- ated unit costs, others who are more aware may still have gaps in their data. Customers who want to capitalise on the benefits of market opening should pre- pare and review their data now, potentially in partnership with their existing supplier, and iden- tify core sets of data for each of their sites in advance of market opening. The fourth is focused on the broader benefits of competition beyond price. Inevitably, many customers will be most interested in the prospect of their water bills reducing. Given the low margins available, the industry will need to work hard to com- municate the other benefits of competition, including reduced overheads, improved customer service levels, improved flex- ibility to interact with retailers, smarter regulatory compliance, solutions to water management challenges and improved water efficiency. The next few months are shaping up to be pivotal for the non-domestic water market. As the industry grapples with the last remaining issues concerning the operation of the water mar- ket, more customers will be wak- ing up to the change that looms on the horizon. It's incumbent upon the water industry to start communicating the significance and the potential benefits that this change will bring to busi- nesses across the country. "The shale industry is vital to the UK's energy security future, and we absolutely support the idea of local consultation and local people having their say, but as in all planning matters there is a balance between that and the national interest." Energy minister Andrea Leadsom

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