Sharing profit with customers would harm investment in the water sector, delegates at Water UK's city conference heard yesterday.

Industry experts resisted calls from the Consumer Council for Water to give something back to customers from unexpectedly high profits last year. 

Yorkshire Water chief executive Richard Flint said profit was one of the main drivers of innovation, which allowed customers’ bills to be kept down, while creating benefits for investors. He urged the sector to ensure that the message that efficiency – driven by the sector – already finds its way back to customers is relayed. 

It would be detrimental to give all profit back to customers, he said. “If you are going to do that, who is going to invest in the sector and where is all the capital investment going to come from to drive all the benefits that we have seen? 

“Getting the balance right is very important and recognising that this is a private sector with people that have invested over a long time that have a right to returns. So that stable and predicable regulatory environment is key.” 

James Leigh, global water sector leader at Deloitte agreed. He questioned whether customers would want a small sum at the end of each year. 

“The way the mechanisms have worked thus far is that customers benefit in the long run from efficiencies that are made through the regulatory process,” he said. 

“I think we in the industry spend a lot of time worrying about customers, when a lot of customers simply want a reliable water supply at a decent price. The odd couple of quid doesn’t make much difference to a lot of us.”