Water firms warn of decline in services

By Craig RobinsonTHE region's water companies have criticised the industry regulator following proposals to cap bills, which they warned could lead to a decline in services.

By Craig Robinson

THE region's water companies have criticised the industry regulator following proposals to cap bills, which they warned could lead to a decline in services.

Representatives from Anglian Water, Essex and Suffolk Water, Tendring Hundred Water and Cambridge Water all voiced their concerns at a meeting yesterday in Ipswich.

WaterVoice Eastern, a consumer group that looks after the interests of customers across East Anglia, held the meeting in response to draft plans by the Office of Water Services (Ofwat) to restrict the amount that water companies charge their customers between 2005 and 2010.

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Catherine Harvey, the WaterVoice Eastern chairman, said: “At the moment we must stress that these proposals by Ofwat are still only in draft form. No final decisions have been made and will not be made until December.

“We welcome the proposed reduction in prices for customers and the demanding efficiency targets. What we are worried about, however, is that the cut back in costs will lead to a decline in services that is inconsistent with customer priorities.”

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As well as restricting bill prices, Ofwat also plans to set higher efficiency targets, leading to a situation that many water companies described as “unsustainable.”

Issues such as standards of service, continued maintenance of existing pipes and lines, security of supply, drinking water quality and minimising sewer flooding were all highlighted as potential problems if the proposals were implemented.

Trish Brocklebank, director of customer services for Anglian Water, said: “We are not at the stage yet where we know exactly how the changes will affect the company directly. However, we do know that we will be stretched.

“We are currently reviewing everything that we do to try to maintain our current standard of service provision.

“We recognise that if we don't do something, it will be difficult to sustain the current level and we may have to cut back in certain areas. Where these may be, we don't yet know.”

Graham Neave, director of customer services for Essex and Suffolk Water, added: “Our biggest concern are the new efficiency targets, they are simply unrealistic with the money that Ofwat want us to spend.

“We had planned to improve all equipment and carry out maintenance work, but now we may be forced to prioritise. A number of changes in levels of service have been forecast.”

WaterVoice Eastern will present the views of the meeting to Ofwat in a formal response to its draft proposals in mid-October. Ofwat was unavailable for comment last night.


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