A comment from the Water Forum
The Water Forum was created to provide independent challenge of the quality of Severn Trent’s engagement with its customers, and how it responds to the outcome of that engagement in its business plans. As well as this forward looking role, the Forum also expects Severn Trent to hold itself to account for the delivery of its current commitments to customers.
Much of the performance has been strong, which is of benefit to customers and a credit to the organisation. Fewer customers have had to experience sewer flooding, in their property or on their premises. Working with Ofwat, the economic regulator, the company has committed to these major improvements being a springboard to further reductions with tighter targets and revised incentives for the next few years, which is strongly to be welcomed.
The company has introduced new and innovative ways of delivering education to customers, especially future customers, and this is something which was strongly advocated during customer engagement events witnessed by members of the Water Forum.
Customers also encouraged the company to work in partnership with other organisations and stakeholders on a range of issues. We are pleased to see this being reflected in joint programmes of work to reduce the risk of flooding, working with local authorities and land owners. Another example is the work with farmers to find better ways of managing land so that fewer contaminants need to be removed during water treatment; it is particularly pleasing that the number of these catchment management schemes has exceeded expectations well beyond the target which attracts performance payments for the company.
By taking a real company-wide focus on leakage, the company has not only met its current targets, but also began a transformation ready for the 15% improvement it has committed to in the coming five year period. Customers rightly see leakage as an iconic issue, and the company achieved its regulatory targets in the face of a year of very unpredictable weather leading to ground movements that caused more pipes to burst.
In other areas performance has been more mixed. Nothing is of greater importance to customers than the provision of high-quality drinking water. Whilst customers can be very confident that this is the case the company didn’t achieve all of its improvement targets this year. We anticipate that the Drinking Water Inspectorate will report on this in its forthcoming annual report.
In 2018/19 fewer customers experienced a prolonged period of an interruption to their supply than in the previous year, but performance was still worse than had been committed. And whilst the amount of water leaked has fallen the company remains well off-target for the speed of response to visible leaks and accepts that it is unlikely to deliver improvements required to meet the ambitious commitments made in the coming year. Recognising these challenges, and with the benefit of greater understanding of the factors that affect the speed of response, the Water Forum has worked with Severn Trent to create an improved approach for the next period.
The Forum is disappointed that, having delivered an improvement in measures to avoid pollution in the previous year, the company has not been able to sustain this performance across the board. It remains ahead of target for category three pollutions, but serious and category 4 pollutions are a cause for concern. In this arena of performance the relevant regulator is the Environment Agency which will publish its overall assessment of the company’s impact on the environment shortly.
This report also charts progress on many other aspects of the work of the organisation. These include measures to support customers experiencing vulnerability. One of the most significant engineering programmes in the company’s history, to improve the resilience of the aqueduct system that brings water from Wales to supply the Birmingham conurbation, is on track for a successful conclusion.
As Severn Trent enters the final year of the 2015-20 period, it has shown strengths in a number of areas that are not only benefitting customers today but will also create a stronger platform to work from in the future. In areas where it has not achieved its commitments, we continue to press the company to improve so that it starts the next period on the best possible footing for its customers.