19 Apr 2012

Another visit to Wessex Water

As noted I am Stroud District Council's rep to Wessex Water - yesterday in Bath we had a meeting - I wont go into all the details as I've just written a brief summary for the annual report for other councillors - click read more to see it.

One issue I don't mention in that report was the feedback we got from a large survey looking at Customer Expectations - a fascinating insight that shows many of us don't really understand the industry. One issue for example is the focus on leaks - private and Wessex leaks are at 21% of water - this seems shockingly high but when you start to look at it the costs of replacing pipes and more would add huge amounts to bills - is it better to tolerate 21% which still requires investment each year to keep at that - or should more money be spent - an issue for a future Wessex meeting. Or maybe climate change and drought will drive the economics in the future?

Report as Stroud District Council's rep to Wessex Water's Customer Liaison Panel. 19.04.12

Wessex has reorganised the way the panels work. In July they launched their new plan at a Stakeholders meeting with Jonathan Porritt. They have replaced their North and South customer liaison panels with three new panels – comprising;
    • customers and community
    • services and planning, and
    • environment.
The membership of each panel has been widened so, for example, the customer and community panel on which I now sit, includes representatives of key customer stakeholders such as the Consumer Council for Water, RNIB, RNID, Citizens Advice and Money Advice Trust as well as local councillors.

I consider these new groups will offer more opportunities for engagement. Meetings, in addition to the Stakeholder Assembly, will be held twice a year and types of discussion include;
    • welfare and customer issues
    • infrastructure needs, planning and development, flooding, council development plans
    • standards and compliance, biodiversity, SSSIs, bathing waters and sludge.

I have actively participated in the meetings and between meetings. Some examples of the particular issues I have raised in the last year include:

1. Social tariffs. Wessex have taken the lead in this area and commissioned research. They have trialled the excellent Assist Tariff which works in partnership with CABs. I have raised whether Wessex would consider extra funds to CABs in the light of the current economic crisis.

2. Literacy rates. Wessex have been good at producing Plain English leaflets and information but there is always a challenge to make more info accessible.  I have sought for example more use of videos on the website to explain issues (particularly to groups like adults with a learning disability) and a review of current literature. One in six people in the UK struggle with literacy. This means their literacy is below the level expected of an eleven year old. See:

Up to 16 million adults - nearly half the workforce - are holding down jobs despite having the reading and writing skills expected of children leaving primary school - see 2006 report:

3. Easy Read for people with a  learning disability. I have sought Wessex to investigate using this for bills and literature. They already are happy to make info available in formats on request but many adults with a learning disability are perhaps not aware of this. Wessex are already looking at how they can publicise this better.

4. Climate change. Wessex are at the forefront of businesses on action to tackle this - already 19% of their energy comes from their own renewables and they have a plan to make that 100%. I have raised a number of issues around this - in particular how this is communicated to the public - a better understanding by the public means more buy in to the measures Wessex are taking.

As noted previously I have been impressed by how Wessex engage with the public and stakeholders; they are continually seeking to improve and suggestions are always given consideration - and in many cases have already been looked at. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries about this brief report.

Cllr Philip Booth, Stroud District councillor for Randwick, Whiteshill and Ruscombe ward

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