20 Jul 2011

Trip to Bath for Wessex Water's Stakeholder Assembly

Yesterday I went to Bath for Wessex Water's Stakeholder Assembly - I have been Stroud District Council's representative for a number of years. In addition to an update on a whole range of Wessex Water's activities there was also a presentation by Jonathon Porritt (who is a non-executive Director of the company) plus new stakeholder groups which I am hopeful offer a greater chance for engagement.

Anyhow Porritt did not shy away from talking about the seriousness of the challenges ahead - in particular how politicians seem to be failing us and unable to take the steps that are needed - it seems that it is only some businesses and civil society that are taking the devastating science of climate change seriously.

New stakeholder groups

One issue I have raised before with Wessex water is that while I am very impressed with their engagement with customers the style of previous meetings were more presentation than any real engagement. To their credit they have taken on board those concerns - indeed I am sure they recognised that themselves, and they have set up a new system of engagement. At this meeting there were all sorts of groups including the CAB, Age UK, NFU, Country Land and Business Association, Consumer Council for Water and many more plus of course various elected representatives from across the Wessex region.

Anyhow there are now three stakeholder groups, 'Services and planning' and 'Environment' and the one I sit on, 'Customers and Communities' - this will look at all aspects of customer engagement - first up issues we raised included social tariffs, private sewers and the accessibility of literature. So if you are in Stroud District and receive Wessex Water and have an issue do please contact me.

Social tariffs

This stakeholders group has already considered Social Tariffs - an issue I have discussed previously on this blog. Wessex have taken the lead in this area and commissioned research which will be available very soon. Defra recently issued a consultation on "Affordable water" which included some thoughts about guidance on social tariffs : www.defra.gov.uk/consult/water-affordability-1104/ The Green Party have made some comments - see here - and I highlighted to the group the recently published report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that considered "water poverty" (ie when households spend 3% or more of their income on water bills).

The report, 'Vulnerability to Heat Waves and Drought: Adaptation to Climate Change', by the environmental consultancy AEA and a team from the University of Surrey, warns that water is becoming scarce as a result of climate change and increased consumer demand - no surprise there.  An estimated four million households in the UK are already "water poor", according to the report, and the situation is likely to worsen, with bills predicted to rise by 5% a year for some customers. In our next meeting in October we will look at this issue further.

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