Anglian Water was visited by environment secretary Michael Gove last week at sites in Gazeley and Newmarket in Suffolk, where he learnt about the company’s “sector-leading approach” to leakage.
The water company explained how it plans to build resilience in its systems to protect water supplies in the face of climate change and more extremes of weather such as the recent long, hot summer and the Beast from the East in March.
No customers in the Anglian Water region were impacted during the cold snap, and there was no hosepipe ban or supply outages in the region over the summer. The company says this is in large part thanks to its “frontier performance on leakage”, investment in building resilient systems, and efforts to help customers use less water.
However, operating in the driest region in the country and ensuring there is enough water is a key challenge which requires focus and investment for the long-term, the company said.
Gove was shown the latest technology to detect and repair leaks including drones and sensors.
The water company, which has the best record in the country for dealing with leaks, said it is only because of privatisation that it can afford to invest in such technology.
Gove’s visit came on the same day as Jeremy Corbyn reiterated his party’s plans to renationalise the industry. Labour claimed that the water lost through leaks this decade would fill Loch Ness.
While on a visit to Leicester’s historic Abbey Pumping Station, Corbyn said: “We are all paying a higher price for our water and I think public ownership would mean the government would have the ability to control the industry and local communities, local authorities would be able to ensure that the water industry works for the good of us all.”
But Peter Simpson, chief executive of Anglian Water argues the government would not be likely to make the same levels of investment if the industry was renationalised.
He said: “We’re looking forward at £6.5 billion of investment. You have to ask if we were a nationalised company would the government be sitting there with that level of investment for the next five years and making the levels of commitments there are – given the other priorities, and I have to say I don’t think so.”
Speaking on BBC One Look East, Gove said: “As a result of the strong regulation we have put in place, prices are now going down and we’re also seeing investment to stop the leaks that understandably irritate customers so much.”
Anglian Water’s customers will see a slight increase in their bills – less than 1 per cent over the five-year period from 2020 to 2025.
When challenged on the bill increase in the Anglian region, Gove said: “This is the driest part of England and it’s also the case that Anglian are the league leaders when it comes to dealing with leaks.
“I think it’s absolutely right that a company like Anglian should be held to account for how it operates but what I’ve seen here today [7 September] is a company that is determined to do better, to invest in the environment and also to give consumers what they want, which is an end to the leaks which cause so much frustration and environmental damage.”
Gove stressed there needs to be a “clear message” that nationalisation of the water sector would be wrong as it would “scare away the investment”.
“It would mean that taxpayers’ money that we should be spending on the NHS and schools would instead be diverted in a way that is inefficient,” he said.
In its PR19 business plan, submitted to Ofwat on 3 September, Anglian Water committed to a further 22 per cent leakage reduction between 2020 and 2025. The company plans to invest a record £6.5 billion during the period, nearly 30 per cent larger than the current five-year period.