Professor Tony Conway Water Excellence, Comment, British Water, Water Industry Forum, Water UK, Innovate water

The University of Sheffield’s Professor Tony Conway, a non-executive director of both British Water and the Water Industry Forum, writes about the two organisations’ recently-announced decision to pool their resources.

Professor Tony Conway sits on the board of both organisations

As the water sector, government and wider society face up to unprecedented challenges, the need to embrace change, innovate and collaborate has never been more important. Against this background, the boards of British Water (BW) and the Water Industry Forum (WIF) began discussions in 2020 to explore a potential merger.

Now, details of the proposed merger have been circulated to their combined membership, who represent a broad cross section of UK water sector stakeholders, seeking their support to proceed with the move later this year.

A coming together of two of the UK’s most influential water sector representative organisations aligns with the direction of travel throughout the water sector. For example, 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”.

British Water and the Water Industry Forum are both strong, respected and financially stable. BW serves its members through its UK, technical and international forums, develops and shares industry best practice and enables networking opportunities. WIF uses its independence to “enable conversations to occur which otherwise wouldn’t happen”, stimulating innovation and challenge-led thought leadership.

BW and WIF both recently contributed to recent comprehensive water sector research in which the great majority of respondents believed that greater collaboration and/or a “coming together” of UK water membership organisations would be beneficial.

Detailed conversations and due diligence concluded that both of our organisations, and most importantly, all of our members, have much to gain from pooling our resources in a spirit of true collaboration and innovation to meet the challenges of the demanding water sector landscape.

In the words of Chris Loughlin and Mark Fletcher, chairs of British Water and the Water Industry Forum respectively: “Our conclusion is that the case for us to join forces is compelling, with many advantages for our members and the UK water sector as a whole. The views of our members are paramount, and the merger proposals have been shared with them, explaining the background, rationale, key benefits and vision for the proposed new organisation, together with an opportunity to provide comments and feedback.

“Together, we can capitalise on our respective strengths, providing an enlarged membership with the combined benefits of British Water’s established industry forums with the challenge-led thought leadership that the Water Industry Forum is recognised for.”

The two chairs believe that the new, combined organisation would:

  • enjoy increased authority, weight and impact, with a stronger voice to help support and shape the future direction of the UK water sector
  • provide access to new, enhanced services and increased value for money for members
  • unite the geographic profiles of the two organisations, providing truly UK-wide coverage
  • respond to research in which a majority of respondents said that greater collaboration and/or a ‘coming together’ of UK water membership organisations would be beneficial.

Loughlin and Fletcher added: “We have developed a proposed operating model and governance framework to support the activities and priorities of the merged organisation, and importantly to preserve the Water Industry Forum’s integrity and independence, enabling it to maintain the trust and respect that it enjoys throughout the sector.

“To this end, we are proposing that the Water Industry Forum remains as a limited company, operating as a subsidiary of British Water, with its management board bound by a Code of Conduct guaranteeing its independence and neutrality.”

“The purposes and activities of British Water and the Water Industry Forum are complementary and mutually supportive. By joining forces, we believe we can deliver enhanced value for our members and respond most effectively and efficiently to the unique challenges facing the UK water sector, Government and wider society – and the many opportunities these challenges present. An update on the proposed merger will follow once feedback from members has been received and reviewed.”

Professor Tony Conway is a Visiting Professor at the University of Sheffield and a former executive director of United Utilities where he focused on identifying world-leading water utility innovation, engaging with innovation hubs around the globe. 

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