Bristol Water has become the first water company to publish a social contract, through which it aims to help society resolve some of the big issues facing it.

The contract follows more than a year of discussion and countless conversations with the people of the West Country. It forms an important part of the company’s PR19 business plan – Bristol Water For All – submitted to Ofwat back in September.

Bristol Water chief executive Mel Karam, said: “This social contract is a massive step forward for us as a company but also for the industry. It reflects our purpose to have a positive impact for society in what we do, building trust beyond the delivery of pure and reliable water supplies.”

The company said the social contract will be a framework to help it to continue delivering societal benefits, but also a way local people can hold it to account for how it delivers its actions.

It goes “way beyond” the basic requirement of competitive markets, regulation, legislation and corporate social responsibility. “If local people believe we haven’t delivered societal benefits then there are financial consequences for us,” the company said in a statement. “We believe that is unique to the industry.”

Bristol Water is the oldest water company in the country. It was founded in 1846 to help resolve the public health issues of the day.

The new social contract will ensure that board level decisions focus on wider societal impacts. The company has also introduced a framework that allows local communities to participate in the big decisions.

Karam said: “We believe that when it comes to improving local communities it’s the little things that matter. We’re not about big numbers, we’re about doing things for people, things that matter.

“So I’m not going to give you a big number of how much we are investing but I can say that we will be working with others to do a whole range of things – including making water more publicly available in communities, inspiring and educating the next generation, putting leisure opportunities at the heart of water, protecting eels, combining resources with other local organisations to amplifying resource efficiency messages.

“And we’ll be working with our regional leaders to support the regional strategy. We’re talking to people in Keynsham, Whitywood, Axbridge and from all over the region to see what we can do in their community. The Social Contract means the people of the West Country can input into what we do, track what we do, and hold us to account for what we do, and how we deliver it.”

Speaking at Utility Week’s Water Customer Conference in Birmingham yesterday (16 January), Ben Newby, customer services director at Bristol Water, discussed the social purpose of a water company.

He said: “There has been a lot of talk about trust and legitimacy in the water sector.

“Customers are concerned about service providers doing the right thing.” He suggested it is not always a “clear cut distinction” of nationalisation or privatisation being the answer.

“Water companies are there to make life better and they need to understand that purpose,” he said.

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