Peter Simpson: The UK water industry is globally respected

24 May 2019


The political plates are currently shifting fast, but behind the headlines the debate over who runs the water industry is still rumbling. In a letter published by the Financial Times this week Anglian Water chief executive Peter Simpson responded by highlighting how the industry is meeting the huges challenges it faces.


Jonathan Ford, in “Arguments for the UK’s private utilities model do not hold water” (Inside business, May 20), paints a picture of a deeply flawed industry. He does not recognise any of its successes, nor does he present realistic, viable alternatives to his objections.


The UK water industry has been transformed from the days when it was owned by government, with the UK considered “the dirty man of Europe”. It is now globally respected, while our customers and the environment are far better served.


The critical challenges we have to face are the consequences of an increasing population and a changing climate. This is nowhere more apparent than here in the east where we work with the lowest level of rainfall, serve the largest part of the country, and protect the UK’s only wetland national park alongside thousands of kilometres of coast.


Growth projections exceed 200,000 new houses within five years, even before we contemplate the homes and businesses the proposed Oxford-Cambridge arc will bring.


We have answers to these challenges. We’re planning one of the longest large pipelines built anywhere in the world in recent times. Stretching 500km, it will supply water to areas of growth and provide flexibility in times of shortage. We’re fitting 1,000 smart meters every day. And by 2025, our leakage levels will not just be industry-leading — they’ll be world leading.


Our customers demand top class service. Our environment needs effective stewardship. Our investors, largely pension funds and many here in the UK, need fair returns. And future generations need to benefit from the planning and investment we are making now.


What is a five-year, £6bn plan here in the east scales up to more than £50bn across the whole country. I cannot see how any chancellor could allocate that sort of investment when it would be competing for funding with the National Health Service, social care, education or myriad other demands on public funds. Yet we have a system that is already capable of delivering this scale of investment. And more than ever, regulatory challenge means it is working in customers’ interests.


We welcome that challenge, and wish to see our response to it better represented in debates about ownership. Let’s not jeopardise, for political dogma, our huge investment in thinking, resourcing and planning to build essential infrastructure that delivers for our customers and for our environment, as well as for shareholders.


Peter Simpson

Chief Executive, Anglian Water