Wessex Water’s leading performance and vision for the future

Wessex Water is championing a new approach for environmental regulation to deliver better outcomes for customers, the environment and water users.

As the company today (10 July) published its annual results, which showed another year of industry-leading performance, it said now was the time for a new vision for the water environment.

Wessex Water has been working together with Green Alliance, The Rivers Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Sustainability First, CIWEM and Water UK on Sustainable Solutions for Water and Nature (SSWAN). The coalition proposes replacing today’s fragmented regulatory model with a catchment-wide approach which works across sectors and prioritises efficient, nature-based and low carbon solutions.

By aligning the regulatory functions that govern water, farming, planning and housing development within a common overall framework, better environmental, social and economic outcomes would be achieved, yielding multiple benefits.

Chief Executive Colin Skellett explained: “The SSWAN project envisages refreshed roles for Government, regulators and regulated companies and the creation of new Catchment Advisory Boards (CABs) which would advise regulators on desired outcomes based on local priorities, taking account of what is achievable and at what cost.

“The CABs would also provide an ongoing monitoring role; non-compliance would have strong consequences, with penalties consistent with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”

Mr Skellett is stepping down as chief executive after 36 years at the helm of the company, from its formative years to overseeing the delivery of industry-leading improvements for customers and the environment. He will hand over the reins to Chief Compliance Officer Ruth Jefferson.

He said: “Now is the time to bring the ideas behind SSWAN to life and we call on the new Government to make the changes that are needed. Ruth has been heavily involved in the work and I know will continue to champion it with our partners.”

Top performance

It's been another successful year of industry-leading performance for Wessex Water. It provided the best quality of drinking water; had the fewest customer complaints of all water companies; and maintained its long-standing top performance on customer service and community engagement, reflected in measures of customer service and excellent TrustPilot rating. It should also recover its four-star environmental rating – the highest score achievable – from the Environment Agency.

This year a campaign to raise awareness of the help available to anyone struggling to pay their bills, and making it easier to access this help, resulted in even more customers getting the support they needed from the company’s tailored assistance programme.

Meanwhile, three major multi-million pound projects got under way in Bristol, near Bath and in Bournemouth to upgrade water recycling centres to provide greater capacity and protect the environment.

Additionally, Wessex Water is investing £3m a month on reducing storm overflows – subject to regulatory approval, this will more than double. Monitors have been deployed on every overflow in the region to inform priorities and the company is working at pace to deliver both asset and nature-based solutions to protect properties and waterways, as well as to provide better near real-time information to users of coastal and inland waters. 

Transforming water and wastewater services

Alongside business-as-usual, in October 2023 Wessex Water submitted a business plan to Ofwat for 2025-30. This was the product of many months of dedicated focus to strike the right balance within the current regulatory framework and in light of so many competing pressures.

Mr Skellett said: “In the immediate term, we need the plan to be approved so we can get on with transforming water and wastewater services to meet modern expectations – particularly getting sewage, nutrients and other pollution out of rivers. But this will be a long journey in which there are no quick fixes, despite the urgency of the call for change.

“For that reason, we need government, regulators, water companies, campaigners, customers, communities and delivery bodies across the water, agriculture, industry and development sectors to back SSWAN’s vision for more sustainable solutions for water and nature.”

Financial results for 2023-24 showed losses before tax increased from £28.9m last year to £43.2m this year, driven primarily by higher interest costs.

Wessex Water’s owner YTL has been a stable owner of the company for more than 20 years, maintaining a debt level in line with regulatory requirements and with financial covenants, avoiding any risk to financial stability.