Before I joined Affinity Water as chief executive in May 2018, I had honestly not given much thought to where my household water came from – how it was sourced, treated or delivered to my home. I turned on the tap, the water flowed and I took that completely for granted. I knew our water bills were lower than our other utility bills, but would not have known the exact amount. I trusted the water to drink it directly from the tap, but I also bought bottled water, and contributed to the £2.4 billion UK bottled water industry, along with almost 20 per cent of the UK population who drink bottled water every day.
Eight months later and my perspective has changed considerably. I now fully appreciate the value of water and the efforts it takes to bring water with world class quality levels to my home – at a fraction of the cost of bottled water.
Many non-utility companies spend a lot of effort trying to cultivate a sense of purpose in their businesses, beyond generating revenues and profits. What has really impressed me is the strong sense of purpose I have found at Affinity Water and the wider water industry. People understand the importance of the role we have in managing such a critical resource and they take it very seriously.
I also have the utmost respect for an industry that is currently facing tremendous challenges, ranging from more extreme weather patterns putting additional strain on assets and operations, to balancing water supply with increasing demand due to population growth, reducing per capita consumption, ensuring consistently high quality water is produced and reducing the amount of water we extract from the environment; all while keeping customer bills as low as possible.
Customers today are also expecting more personalised and attentive service levels from water companies. Our customers, stakeholders and regulators are demanding that we up our game in every regard – that we are more community and customer focused, more transparent, innovative, efficient, resilient and that we better protect and enhance the environment.
How well we, as industry leaders and policymakers, respond to these challenges will impact greatly on people’s lives and livelihoods.
But I believe we can and will rise to these challenges and that was evidenced by the extensive customer involvement and collaborative discussions between water companies, stakeholders and regulators in the run-up to the business plans for 2020-25 submitted last September.
At Affinity Water, our vision is to be the UK’s leading community-focused water company. We want to truly understand and connect with customers and communities, so that we can best meet their needs and expectations. During this regulatory period, we have gathered significant information and insights into customers across our eight community regions, which has informed our business plan. Going forward, we will build on this and develop more granular insights, engagement and plans. To highlight and embed our customer-centric approach, this year each of our board members and executive team members will sponsor communities, and our business leaders will engage directly with customers in focus groups.
For AMP7, we are planning an investment programme of £1.37 billion to maintain our assets and enhance our resilience. We have set ourselves stretching targets of £200 million in efficiency improvements, 15 per cent leakage reduction – on top of 14 per cent for the period 2015 to 2020 and reducing customer consumption levels from 147 to 129 litres per person per day. We will also be reducing the amount of water abstracted from the environment by 36 million litres per day between 2020 and 2025, following the successful delivery of 42 million litres per day reductions since 2015.
We have also reviewed our board membership and are increasing the number of independent directors to ensure they are in the majority.
We are determined to deliver for our customers and our stakeholders in an open, transparent and responsible manner.
I, for one, am very proud to work for this company and in this industry.