Annual review summary 2021-22

Delivering for our customers, community and environment.

Introduction and overview

Wessex Water continues to perform highly on outcomes for customers, communities and the environment. For instance, in 2021/22, we were 100% compliant with the quality of our wastewater discharges and 97% compliant with the licences that control how much water we can take from the environment. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and always endeavour to protect and improve the natural world across our region.

But we know that we must do more, particularly with the growing interest in water-based recreation. The year has been characterised by a surge of comment on the poor state of water quality in UK rivers and, in particular, the contribution from water company storm overflow discharges. Overflows were built into sewer networks constructed prior to the 1960s to prevent property flooding during heavy rain. While their impact on river water quality is very limited, we share the view that in the 21st century, any such discharge into a watercourse is unacceptable. 

So, while this has been uncomfortable, we welcome the spotlight now being thrown on river water quality and will rise to the challenge of making changes that meet society’s expectations. 

We have had a very positive 2021-22; here are a few of the highlights:

  • Safe, healthy drinking water is a top customer priority - our compliance with drinking water standards was the best it has ever been with a score of 0.37.
  • We also delivered very reliable water services to our customers. The length of time to deal with unplanned interruptions to supply fell to less than half the sector average in 2020-21. 
  • We have an industry-leading customer experience track record and in 2021, we topped the water and sewerage company ranking in Ofwat’s customer experience league table, C-MeX. 

Serving people and places

This year we again received the Customer Service Excellence award and retained the Service Mark with distinction from the Institute of Customer Service, one of only 19 companies in the country to hold this accreditation. In our strategic direction statement, we have set ourselves the challenge of being a top 10 company in the UK Customer Satisfaction Index. 

Customer inspector stood in front of a Wessex Water van smiling
White outline of a trust pilot star in a square

221st

in the UK Customer Satisfaction Index.

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6.5%

of customers are spending more than 5% of their disposable income on their water bill.

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533

sewer flooding impact score.

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0.37

compliance risk index score.
4:12 (mm:ss) water supply interruptions.

Reforming solutions

In March, we published a new strategic direction statement, setting out our pledges for people and places through to 2050. We committed to deliver eight stretching outcomes for customers, communities and the environment, including zero water poverty, net zero carbon (by 2040), river water quality restoration and doubling our contribution to the region’s biodiversity.

In that statement, we also called for economic and environmental regulatory reform, backed by government support and direction, to enable us to deliver more for less. We recommended Outcome Based Environmental Regulation, under which regulators would set outcome-based targets at catchment level and empower us to choose solutions that deliver the biggest environmental benefits, at the lowest costs.

This system-based approach to identifying solutions would boost the attractiveness of nature-based solutions and sustainable drainage options, and reduce the attractiveness of carbon-intensive built solutions.

If we do not take this opportunity, we will lock over-priced, under-performing solutions into the water sector until at least 2030, and lose the chance to deliver more environmental value at lower cost – for everyone’s benefit.

Enhancing the environment

Our aim is to deliver a better environment for nature and people. In 2020, we were rated as ‘leading’ in the Environment Agency’s annual environmental performance assessment but we recognise we have more to do. For example, we know we must continue to return more water to the environment over the medium to long term, through reducing abstraction and reducing demand.

Wessex Water employee knelt down in a green field with blue sky behind them
White outlines of waves with a white arrow above pointing upwards

97%

compliance with abstraction licences.

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72

number of pollution incidents.

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106

total ktC02e per year (operational).

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613

biodiversity units we aim to create between 2020-25.

Enhancing the wild

Our work in partnership with the local Wildlife Trusts – to deliver cleaner rivers, good quality habitats for wildlife and more natural solutions for flood alleviation and carbon storage – has continued apace. Together, we are delivering solutions where the challenges are particularly acute in areas across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire.

We will progressively eliminate storm overflows, starting with those that discharge most frequently and those that have any environmental impact. Eight of the 444 rivers, lakes and seas in our region currently fall short of the standards required, due to the operation of storm overflows and we are currently investing more than £3 million every month to address this. Nature-based solutions and separating surface water before it enters the sewerage network must be our first choice, given the cost, carbon footprint and disruption associated with engineering solutions. We need government support for this in the form of powers for water companies to stop new developments being connected to combined sewers and for us to disconnect surface water where possible.

More generally, we are committed to improving the environmental status of all rivers within our region in line with the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and the Environment Act. We will also support others to reduce the impacts they have, by acting as a convener and leader of catchment partnerships and markets, helping different parties to work together to the greatest effect.

Water supply demand last summer was fairly muted, but the future looks challenging. In this reporting year, the Environment Agency classified the Wessex Water area as seriously water stressed for the first time. Against that backdrop, we are working with our neighbouring water companies and other stakeholders to produce a long-term regional water resources plan, with ambitious targets to reduce demand, together with innovative supply side options.

Our greenhouse gas emissions and electricity use fell in the year and we also published a route map setting out how we plan to meet the industry wide target of net zero operational carbon emissions by 2030. By 2040, we intend for our entire business to be net zero total carbon, 10 years ahead of the target for the UK as a whole.

We know how much our customers and communities value wildlife, and how much our planet needs us to reverse the decline in biodiversity we are witnessing. This year we completed the task of assessing the biodiversity value of all our significant landholdings and this will form the foundation of our work to support nature recovery.

Empowering our people

Our people are our greatest asset and we depend upon them to deliver all the outcomes to which we aspire for customers, communities and the environment. They continually demonstrate their dedication in going the extra mile, often in challenging circumstances. One of our highest priorities is ensuring their health, safety and wellbeing, which requires constant vigilance and continuous improvement.

Male Wessex Water employee smiling

Protecting our people

One of our highest priorities is ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, which requires constant vigilance and continuous improvement.

Investigations are ongoing after the tragic incident at Avonmouth in December 2020. We are cooperating with the investigating authorities and remain committed to understanding why the incident happened.

This year we have updated our health, safety and welfare strategy, and maintained our focus on continuous improvement by implementing a new health and safety reporting system, Engage EHS, which makes it easier for concerns to be raised and action taken - the number of observations has doubled since 2020. In particular, we have focused on our high hazard activities and process safety and use our advisory board of leading health and safety experts to accelerate continuous improvement.

Engage EHS ensures reporting on this crucial area is consistent across the company and improves visibility, action tracking and action management. The number of people reporting their observations on health and safety incidents and matters has doubled since 2020, and reporting on near-misses has also increased. This provides us with more proactive learning opportunities and therefore the ability to improve processes.

A health and safety highlight this year was the President’s award from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to our Engineering and Sustainable Delivery department. This award is reserved for organisations that have achieved 10 or more consecutive gold awards.

Financing the future

Despite a tough year, our financial performance remained resilient and in line with expectations. We depend on strong financing and governance to underpin service delivery and sustainability. Our strong track record and stable, committed ownership is seen very positively by investors.

Engineers working on new equipment with high vis and hard hats on

Delivering for all

Financial stability, exemplary governance, transparency, accountability and efficiency are all outcomes we are targeting for the long term.

In our strategic direction statement, we have committed to:

  • be the most efficient water company in the industry – including by harnessing the power of markets and real competition, and championing an outcomes-based approach to regulation where efficiency can be maximised through flexibility and choice
  • keep gearing below 70%
  • provide fair returns to investors and be well-regarded by financial stakeholders
  • deliver for wider society and the environment through sustainable financing and using ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) metrics.