British Water’s first annual conference took place in Manchester on November 21, 2023.
Some of the conference’s major themes were the need to intensify collaboration, integration and digitization to deliver works in the country’s eighth asset management plan period (AMP8; 2025-2030).
Delivering a keynote address, Jane Simpson, commercial, engineering & capital delivery director, United Utilities, said that the utility, which serves more than three million customers in the north-west of England, was collaborating closely with neighboring water companies, and seeking to work with a much broader range of partners and suppliers than in the past, and building closer relationships with local authorities and NGOs.
“We’re walking into the biggest capital investment for growth the water industry has ever seen,” said Simpson. “For United Utilities, we’re moving from this AMP [2020-25], which is just under £2 billion of capital delivery, to a really ambitious £8 billion for the next AMP.”
She said this had completely changed the way the company works with suppliers, with a move away from tier one contractors. “We have over 90 supply chain companies bidding at the moment, and we’re looking to take on around 50” she said. “We’re looking at a very diverse supply chain [compared] to the supply chain we’ve got today.”
Speaking on a panel alongside other regulators, Ofwat chair Iain Coucher said that there were areas for improvement in relationships between water companies and the supply chain in the United Kingdom, which was concerning given the scale of investment.
“I don’t think we’ve yet got the regulatory construct, the collaboration in there, to enable us to have the conversations ... at an industry level,” Coucher said.
Coucher also acknowledged that, where nature-based solutions were concerned, special funding mechanisms might be needed “to support exploration”.
This flexibility was welcomed by Andrew Stiven, director of business consulting for event sponsor Stantec. Stiven urged the industry to find the projects for stormwater management and flood alleviation that provided opportunities to collaborate and drive transformation.
“There are some really good examples from the north-east where projects have been delivered with massive benefits for communities, but they take time and time is not a friend here,” Stiven said.
The day ended with a call to action that Lila Thompson, CEO of British Water, agreed to take forward — to help galvanize the sector to develop and agree on a collective purpose for the sector for customers and the environment.