Customer engagement is key to greater climate resilience, according to Simon Cocks, Independent Chair of WRSE.
In a wide ranging interview with global professional services firm WSP he ponders on a range of issues – from how best to adapt to extremes of climate change, the adequacy of continuing with economic regulatory frameworks to determine the need for new infrastructure, to how the UK’s water and wastewater systems compare with international counterparts.
But it is the part customers can play in making the country’s water infrastructure more resilient to climate change – and in turn how that might their perception of the value of water and indeed the industry itself – that Simon turns his attention to while looking across the pond for inspiration.
“In California, water availability and water management are seen as shared responsibilities by everyone from state government to customer – there’s a real sense that everyone’s in it together whereas in the UK the responsibilities are not always crystal clear or seen as shared. In our country, does responsibility lie with the government, the water companies, customers or others? There’s definitely scope for more effective collaboration, in my view.
“Most people would agree that water and the environment are important, but they would just like it to be easy to do their bit – whether that’s through new water-efficient buildings or cost-effective retrofit solutions to help make them more water-efficient overall. We must continue to support this and find ever more imaginative ways to engage customers and users of water. That’s the responsibility of all of us.”
And what about the public perception of the value of water and the water industry?
“The narrative about the water industry has been largely negative about all kinds of things – from leakage, to company ownership, to use of natural resources. I really don’t think this paints a balanced or fair picture, and if this situation persists, I believe it will hinder collaborative working and the ability to create a shared sense of how to best address future challenges.
“The reality of the water industry is that it provides clean, safe drinking water to a 99.5% quality standard, and delivers that service to customers with an impressive 80% level of customer satisfaction.
“This type of service is something to be proud of, but of course from this great heritage there needs to be a new, forward-looking narrative: getting more customers and stakeholders engaged in the value of water. By value I don't mean price, but the value of water to society and the importance of water to society and the environment.”
Simon chairs the group which unites the six companies in the South East of England that between them supply water to 40% of the UK population and will, for the first time in its history, produce a multi-sector regional resilience plan.
You can read the full interview here.