Scottish Water strategy consultation

Scottish Water has published a consultation paper (www.scottishwater.co.uk/your-views-count) on its ongoing strategy. It’s a nice glossy presentation with some very good sections that explain how our water and waste water systems work. It also sets out clearly with excellent graphics the key challenges facing Scottish Water. These include climate change, demographic change, legislation, technology and the political environment.

There is a lot here, but it is worth picking out just one issue that explains why Scottish Water is digging up large parts of Glasgow at present.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is dealing with new waste water demand from customers arising through ‘urban creep’ (the increase in paving of the urban landscape which increases the surface water run-off into our sewers). To maintain our current levels of service to our customers we need to increase the capacity of sewers or find other ways to deal with surface water, otherwise we will see an increase in flooding from sewers. Recent changes to planning legislation on permeable paving could help to reduce this demand, assuming that customer awareness grows and more households use permeable paving, which better absorbs water, or other sustainable materials for driveways etc.”

The strategy also reminds us of the success of Scotland’s public service model in delivering a high level of cost effective investment with low charges.

“Average household charges in Scotland at £324 for 2012/13 are £52 less than the average in England and Wales and the lowest in Great Britain. Scottish Water can only achieve this through being efficient in how it delivers its services and acknowledging the key differences in its financing and charging arrangements from elsewhere in Great Britain.”

There will be further financial pressures as older infrastructure has to be replaced and maintained. A £500m per annum investment programme is likely to continue. Cost pressures may be obviated to a degree through an expanding customer base. A faster pace of improvement will result in higher charges.

The paper does not address changes to the way Scottish Water could be governed and financed. Probably correctly as these are rightly matters for government. However, it should deliver more work in-house and bundle contracts into smaller units to ensure more work is sourced locally if they are serious about supporting economic growth. This was clearly explained in Jim and Margaret Cuthbert’s submission to the IBR in 2010;

“10.​It would be possible, by appropriate Ministerial directive, to ensure that Scottish Water retained in-house more of the expertise involved in research and development, design, and preparing invitations to tender: and also to commission new capital investment in smaller bundles, for which indigenous Scottish firms would be better suited to compete on level terms. This would have the effect of retaining more headquarters and research activity in Scotland, and would also have a beneficial effect on the Scottish skills base.”

So while this is a very well set out document, the reader is left wondering just what Scottish Water is seeking views on. We have just completed a Government consultation on charges that covers similar ground. The impression is that this is simply a public relations exercise.

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