We make no excuses, says Thames Water chairman

Sir Peter Mason responds to Ofwat criticism of Thames Water

Sir Peter Mason, chairman of Thames Water has said the company “makes no excuses” for its recent failures on leakage reduction and pollution.

In an exclusive column for Utility Week, Mason said: “Meeting agreed targets, protecting the environment and complying with the law are fundamental requirements of our business and we expect to be held to account whenever we fail to meet the required standards.”

His words follow a string of public embarrassments for Thames Water, including an unprecedented market intervention from Ofwat chairman Jonson Cox in which the company was challenged to deliver urgent step changes in its communications with customers, its financial transparency and the make-up of its board.

Other negative publicity for Thames came in the form of a record £20m fine for pollution incidents which occurred between 2012 and 2014, and a “maximum penalty” from Ofwat for falling short of its 2016/17 leakage reduction target by a margin of 47 million litres a day.

Mason said: “We make no excuses for those failures,” before repsonding directly to Cox’s five-point ultimatum for improved perfomance.

“I am pleased to say that we are already working in each of these areas,” commented Mason.

He said it “seems to us to be a good idea” to publish an annual audited statement, a measure Cox put forward in order to clarify exactly what the Thames Water is doing to ensure it delivers for customers. Mason also noted that for the past three years Thames has published an ‘Our Finances Explained’ document to promote transparency. He said this will now be accompanied by a similar document called ‘Our Taxes Explained’.

On board structure, Mason said: “Following recent reforms of governance in the sector, instituted by Jonson Cox and the board of Ofwat, the composition of our Board of Directors has undergone significant change.”

He stated that “fully independent non-executive directors are now in the majority on the board” and that these individuals “hold the company to account” while also adding “valuable breadth and depth of experience to our decision making and governance”. 

Mason also recognised the “considerable and legitimate” interest that customers have recently taken in remuneration of senior executives at Thames, however he added: “We have sought to explain this carefully in the lengthy remuneration section of our annual reports”.

With regards to customer communications, Mason said it is a “basic requirement that we should be able to engage quickly and effectively with every customer on their own terms”. Consequently, he assured that Thames is investing in new billing and customer care systems as well as increasing its social media capacity.

Concluding his remarks, Mason said that the senior leadership of Thames accepts “that our responsibility is to provide the best possible service to all our customers”. He stated that Thames Water’s privatised status “does not change the fundamental requirement of our business, which is to provide an essential public service”.

Mason’s article also included confirmation that the chairman of 12 years will stand down “early next year”.