Ofwat's chief executive, Rachel Fletcher writes exclusively for Utility Week as the water sector reveals its draft vision for the future to confront "profound" challenges.

Everyone reading this will know that over the past few years there has been much attention on the water sector. From the practices in the boardrooms, the services customers experience, and tackling ire-inducing issues like leaks, there has been scrutiny abound.

On too many of these, for too long, some in the sector have been in the wrong place.

This challenge has been necessary to drive change. But it has also overshadowed much that is great about the industry – its public service ethos and the steps companies have made to improve the environment with falling real bills, for example.

While there is still work to do to address concerns, to create a positive future we must also look forward.

To that end, today (2 May) we have published an emerging new vision for the sector. This sets out the aspirations of those in the sector and what we think is needed to become an industry the country can be proud of.

All parts of the sector from regulators, governments, consumer groups and of course the companies themselves, have been collaborating to identify the themes of a new vision. And this itself is a symbol of our collective willingness to work together in the interests of customers, society and environment.

By creating a clear, long-term purpose, the sector is setting itself on a path to deliver the right things in the right way for customers and the environment. And it is very much needed. The challenges before us are profound: climate change, population growth leading to increased demand, and greater customer expectations are just the start of it.

Following discussion with customers and stakeholders about what our collective vision might be, three themes have emerged.

The first is the importance of the sector delivering everyday excellence. Afterall, these are essential services and customers’ growing and changing demands should be met.

Second, is long-term stewardship. The industry owns long lived assets and has an important role in protecting and improving the environment and the water resources on which we all depend.

Third, is the focus on adding value. That means value for money to customers, but also it recognises the value companies can provide to communities and the environment as they carry out the job of providing water and waste services.  As a step towards this, we welcome Water UK’s public interest commitment as a demonstration of the industry’s commitment to this part of the vision.

The sector will consider these three themes and explore how it can build them into the goals for us to all work towards and the motivations to help us get there. And we welcome all input, ideas and inspiration as we work this through.

And while we need that common goal, we also need each organisation to play their part. To that end, Ofwat is inviting further conversation about its refreshed strategic direction from 2020.

We expect to build on Ofwat’s strengths but look to make three important shifts.

First is a stronger focus on creating a better future, by embracing a longer term perspective. We are considering setting long-term targets; planning for sustainable future water resources; and ensuring long-term operational resilience.

Second, we want to be more proactive in driving transformational change to provide resilient services that are affordable while improving the environment. In doing that, we want to help by setting a regulatory environment that fosters the adoption of innovation, encourages affordable solutions for the environment, promotes mature relationships between companies and customers, and sees information turned into insight for Ofwat and the industry.

And, finally, to encourage private enterprises to deliver public value. That means ensuring value for customers, communities and the environment and by looking to companies to create social and environmental value through their approach to delivering core services for customers. That might mean exploring how catchment management could improve river quality while driving down cost of water treatment, or how companies can help the economy in local deprived communities by targeting training and job opportunities.

Across the water sector we are looking forward. We invite everyone interested to join us and help to shape a brighter future.

Read Utility Week’s interview with Rachel Fletcher here