British Water first annual conference highlights collaboration in the UK water sector

The need to intensify collaboration, integration and digitisation, to deliver a programme of works in AMP8 — the asset management plan period 2025-2030 — was discussed at British Water first annual conference, which took place in Manchester, the UK, on 21 Nov 2023.

Jane Simpson, commercial, engineering and capital delivery director, United Utilities (UU), said that UU, which serves more than 3 million customers in the northwest of England, was collaborating with neighbouring water companies, and seeking to work with a broader range of partners and suppliers, and building closer relationships with local authorities and NGOs. 

“We are walking into the biggest capital investment for growth the water industry has ever seen. We are moving from this AMP, which is under £2bn of capital delivery, to a £8bn for the next AMP,” Simpson said.

British Water conference

She said this had 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 are looking to take on around 50,” Simpson added. “We are looking at a diverse supply chain [compared] to the supply chain we have got today.”

Ofwat chair Iain Coucher said that there were areas for improvement in relationships between water companies and the supply chain in the UK, which was concerning given the scale of investment. He also added that where Nature-based Solutions (NbS) were concerned, special funding mechanisms might be needed “to support exploration”.

This flexibility was welcomed by Andrew Stiven, director of business consulting at event sponsor Stantec. He urged the industry to find the projects for stormwater management and flood alleviation that provided opportunities to collaborate and drive transformation. Sal Watson, technical excellence and digital lead, Mott MacDonald, made a call to implement the ISO44001 standard on collaboration in business relationships.

Monisha Gower, assets director at Northumbrian Water said she was encouraged to hear about British Water’s ambition for a new ‘ecosystem’ of water companies, local authorities, suppliers, regulators and government all coming together.

Mark Froggatt, chief engineer, Anglian Water said, “We used to attract people in because of our engineering, now we attract them because of our purpose and our ability to influence the environmental side.” At the same time, he said, there was a need to get the public onside.

Gemma Domican, director of transformation, strategy and people at CCW agreed, added that customers do not necessarily engage with their water bills. She said “It’s about what they feel. We have to have a vision so that they feel something different.”

Lila Thompson, CEO British Water agreed on a call to action to galvanise the sector to develop and agree on a collective purpose for customers and the environment.

A panel discussion at British Water first annual conference