Ian McAulay says the water retail market has created opportunities for new partnerships and innovation

The water sector is experiencing the “biggest time of change” in its history, according to Southern Water’s chief executive Ian McAulay.

Speaking at a water retail event in Brighton yesterday (20 September) McAulay told delegates he thought the sector had responded well to the challenges in the first six months since the opening of the market.

He said: “I think this is the biggest time of change that I have ever seen in the water sector in the UK, and I have been in the sector for 35 years. I used to say since privatisation, but I think we have gone beyond that now.

“I think it’s the biggest ever change for a variety of reasons – the scale of technology for example and its capability.”

The Southern Water-hosted event, entitled ‘A new way to do business’, explored how the opening up of the sector has created new partnership opportunities and innovation.

McAulay said that technological innovation in particular has allowed the sector to think differently about how it does business.

“It used to be the oil and gas sector as that’s where the returns were made, that’s where the margins were made. But now we are seeing some of the big technology giants producing new technology. It kind of doubles up on Moore’s law, so I think we’ve got a real opportunity to change there.”

However, he warned that innovation would be more difficult for an industry which is regulated not to fail.

“As stewards of the environment you have to be very careful in how far you can push innovation,” he explained.

McAulay said the water sector should be proud of what it has achieved in the first six months since the water retail market came into effect and should look for the positives instead  of the negatives.

“We are really good in this country at saying ‘yeah, we did that ok, but…’ and then look for what we didn’t do so well.

“If I look at what we’ve achieved together; the setting up of this new market in a very short period, I think the first thing we should be saying to each other is ‘well done, that’s quite remarkable’.”

The event, which took place at Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex stadium, also included guest speakers from the Consumer Council for Water, Ofwat, Waterwise and Aqaulogic.