Merger marks new era in water collaboration

Water stream in an idyllic forest (Šunikov vodni gaj, Slovenia).

As the water sector, governments and wider society face unprecedented challenges, the need to embrace change, innovate and collaborate has never been more critical. The merger of two water sector organisations in the UK aims to lead the way.

On 1 Apr 2022, British Water (BW) and the Water Industry Forum (WIF) announced that the merger of the two organisations was complete.

Chris Loughlin, chair of British Water, commented: “By joining forces, we’ve created an even stronger organisation that can deliver ever greater value for all our members, key stakeholders, partners and the sector as a whole. There is a tremendous synergy to be gained from bringing our respective strengths together.”

The merger will increase the range of services on offer, strengthen membership support and enhance the opportunity for challenge-led thought leadership, which will provide greater authority and a stronger voice both nationally and internationally –­ elements that are only growing more essential in the current economic climate.

Dr Mark Fletcher, chair of the Water Industry Forum, added: “The merger will provide efficiencies through eliminating duplication of effort, broadening our membership and opening access to our combined range of services.”

BW and WIF began exploring the possibility of a potential merger in 2020, and following detailed discussions and due diligence, it became clear to both boards that the timing and rationale for pooling resources were compelling that in 2021 the organisations recommended to their respective members that they proceed with a merger.

A proposed operating model and governance framework have been developed to support the activities and priorities of the merged organisation, and more importantly to preserve the WIF’s integrity and independence – enabling it to maintain the trust and respect it enjoys throughout the sector.

The WIF will remain as a not-for-profit limited company, operating as a subsidiary of BW. Its management board will be bound by a code of conduct ensuring its independence and neutrality, and its directors will also be required to adhere to a code of ethics, with everyone’s integrity and impartiality assessed on an ongoing basis.

A harmonised subscription model will be introduced during a post-merger transition period. It is said that subscriptions will increase for a small minority of members, with an increase phased in over an extended period.

The merger of these two organisations aligns with the direction of travel throughout the water sector. For instance, Water UK’s discussion paper, Developing a 2050 Vision for the Water Sector, describes a need “for the sector, government and regulators to build on current areas of joint work and collaborate more effectively to accelerate the rate of positive change. The status quo and incremental approaches will not be enough.”

This sentiment is underpinned by a questionnaire across the UK water sector representative organisations coordinated by the WIF, which demonstrated support for closer working and increased collaboration.  

“BW and WIF have proud histories of achievements, for and on behalf of their members and the sector,” Loughlin concluded. “We know that by combining our respective strengths we can create a new and even stronger organisation that will deliver added value for all our members, key stakeholders and partners, enabling us to respond most effectively and efficiently to the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.”