Utility Week

Utility Week 3rd March 2017

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6 | 3rd - 9th March 2017 | UtILItY WEEK People & Opinion On the home straight The imminent introduction of retail competition will put water at the top of the business agenda. Chief executive's view Johanna Dow, Business Stream Aer years of planning and prep- aration, we are finally on the home straight as we count down the last few weeks to the opening of the non-household water mar- ket in England. As an industry, we've come a long way since the publication of the Water Act in 2014, but there is still much to do and the prepa- rations look set to continue right up to the starting gun being fired on 1 April. Last month, participants had to submit their final letters of assurance to the Open Water partners – Ofwat, MOSL and Defra – confirming their readi- ness to participate in the market. There may well have been a few difficult conversations in board- rooms around the country as companies made their conclud- ing assessments and signed in blood to say they would be mar- ket ready come April. Readiness is an issue for the market as a whole, not just the biggest players, and if there are variations in preparedness among market participants, they will be exposed fairly quickly. The dependency that retailers have on wholesalers to resolve operational issues in a timely and effective manner will intro- duce a new set of dynamics into the industry and invariably cause some tension at least in the early stages. The completeness and accu- racy of market data is another important factor that none of us can afford to overlook. As more customers invite bids for new contracts in the coming weeks and months, we can expect to see the market data being well and truly stress tested. If experi- ence in other liberalised markets is anything to go by, data qual- ity will be tested and exposed from the outset, when customers switch for the first time. We must be able to respond to any issues quickly and effectively to main- tain confidence in the market. At Business Stream, we have spent considerable time and resources over the past two years testing new systems and processes and developing dif- ferent ways of working to inter- act with new customers and multiple wholesalers. All this is designed to ensure that our entry into the market will be as smooth as possible for us as a business and, more importantly, for our customers. And that brings me to our customers and what we have to do to ensure their continued engagement with, and aware- ness of, the changes ahead. A survey published by Ofwat found that only a third of organisations questioned were aware that the retail water market was opening in England in April. While this was an increase on some earlier studies, there is clearly still room for improvement. Open Water's new marketing campaign is a welcome initiative and should help inform custom- ers about their options once the market opens. Engagement isn't something that is done once at the start of a new market, it needs to be repeated oen. This was evi- denced in last summer's CCWa- ter survey of customers in the Scottish market, where even aer eight years of choice, cus- tomer awareness was relatively low particularly among smaller businesses. The introduction of compe- tition puts water firmly at the top of the business agenda and ensures it is no longer the poor relation in the utility sector. Customers' expectations will be high and we can't let them down. With the launch date in sight at last, I'm excited and nervous in equal measure – let's do this and do it well! "Biomass delivers a massive cut in carbon emissions compared with fossil fuels. The whole supply chain is monitored in detail to ensure we cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60 per cent compared with fossil fuels" Nina Skorupska, chief executive, the Renewable Energy Association, knocks back reports that biomass could be more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels.

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