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A Report on the Winter 2019 Self-Supply Users Forum

The Winter Self-Supply Users Forum took place in London on 5th December 2019. This regular meeting, convened by Waterscan on behalf of the water self-supply community, is an essential component of driving forward the vision of an efficient, customer-focused open water market.

Self-supplying organisations Blackpool Council, BT, Coca Cola European Partners, Elis, Greene King, Heineken, John Lewis Partnership, The Kellogg Company, Marston’s, Stonegate Pub Company and Whitbread attended along with companies keen to join them as self-supply licence holders. Industry speakers were MOSL’s CEO Sarah McMath as well as Severn Trent’s Ian Dearnley and Michael Rathbone.

Waterscan began proceedings by presenting the latest independent market performance data and a status report on activities across the marketplace. The extremely positive comparative performance of the self-supply community was noted.

However, legacy issues continue to hinder the advancement of the smooth running of the open market. These include long-unread meters, wholesaler-retailer bilateral communication, fast problem resolution and rigid credit arrangements that, in some cases, are preventing customers from entering the marketplace. Levels of long-unread meters are in many cases worse than prior to market opening. Noting that these positions are not within the spirit of the market, various high-level interactions are gaining momentum to resolve these inherent obstacles.

Attendees were given an up-to-date drought briefing with a view to informing operational planning for the year ahead. It was noted that, despite recent wet weather kick-starting the annual winter recharge early, low rainfall over the last three recharge seasons (aggravated by abstraction impacts) has depleted groundwater storage to a level that may take several years to recover from. It was noted that much could be achieved regarding compliance and environmental impacts through a thorough understanding of site-specific water usage patterns.

The Environment Agency notes that ‘a reliable water supply is usually taken for granted, but England risks water shortages as a result of climate change, an increasing population (especially in the drier south and east) and the need to protect the environment. The water supply system is already strained, and the pressure will only rise over the coming decades.’

A National Infrastructure Council Report, “Preparing for a Drier Future”, has been published to inform how to address England’s water supply challenges and deliver the appropriate level of resilience for the long-term.

Next, Sarah McMath, recently appointed as MOSL CEO, provided attendees with a unique insight into the market operator’s business planning process and focus areas for 2020/21.

Driven by a clear theme of making the open market an easier place to do business in, Sarah spoke in detail about how MOSL plans to identify and address impediments in the market in a bid to deliver overall value for money, greater openness and transparency.

She commented: “At this critical point for both MOSL and the overall market, it is vital that we take stock and reset our collective agenda in terms of what success could, and should, look like. We are committed to making MOSL easier to do business with, and to working proactively and collaboratively across the market to help develop a simpler, more efficient and better functioning overall market that is easier to do business in.”

She highlighted the importance of blended data to garner the highest level of visibility across the marketplace and commented on the unrivalled insight that the self-supply community has achieved in this respect. She urged that the Consumer Council for Water is kept informed about the underlying causes of complaints to gain a greater understanding of the issues.

MOSL has identified four clear priorities. In the order they are rated, these are: legacy data quality issues (e.g. meter and customer asset data); retailer margins and cost to serve; maintenance and ownership of data (e.g. submission of meter reads and new connections); and a lack of standardisation across wholesalers (e.g. bilaterals, tariffs, payment policies). Early engagement during consultation processes relating to these is greatly appreciated via the MOSL website.

A fully engaged Q&A session followed Sarah’s presentation, enabling her to delve deeper and benefit from first-hand customer insight to inform her future decision making whilst equally enabling the self-supply community to voice its key concerns.

Ian Dearnley, Head of Wholesale Market Unit and Programme Director of Water and Waste Transformation, and Michael Rathbone – Retailer Contract Manager – at Severn Trent gave delegates an interesting wholesaler perspective on the market. They also used the opportunity to really engage with attendant businesses to explore how customers can work together with wholesalers and retailers for the best outcome, as well as delivering guidance on how to stay on-supply in periods of drier weather.

Looking ahead, there’s no doubt that improvements in data, collaboration and engagement will be required for all parties in the business supply chain to value and manage water more effectively.

The forum concluded with a dynamic workshop on sustainable development (ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water for all) in the context of climate change. Waterscan will be working with each of the self-supply customers in the group to develop Water Management Action Plans in the quarter ahead.

Waterscan further revealed initiatives that it has itself undertaken with the aim of further improving their customers’ experience with higher levels of service and financial savings, enhancing productivity through more efficient processes that align with the customer journey alongside system automation, and delivering industry leading data and insight.

Significant investment in Waterline – already a market-leading management system which provides customers with detailed cost and consumption data – is a key example of how the company is focused on delivering an exceptional user experience with unprecedented levels of actionable insight.

Trade effluent reporting and site management is also a key focus area for the group to consider moving forward, with Waterscan developing robust reporting systems around ‘the three C’s’: compliance, cost and consumption. While these are all interconnected, there are individual components that make up trade effluent billing and influence best practice at the site concerned.

Reflecting on the event, Anastasia Sousanoglou, Water Strategy Manager at Waterscan commented: “So much value arises from these forum meetings – not just for the water customers who come to be briefed, to learn new approaches and to voice their areas of concern directly to policymakers, but also for those industry participants who embrace this unique opportunity to consult customers and confidently develop their plans.”