Annual review summary 2020-21

Delivering for our customers, community and environment.

Introduction and overview

This year has been dominated by two events: one affecting the Wessex Water community and the other affecting communities throughout the world.

The whole Wessex Water family was devastated by the tragic events at Avonmouth on 3 December 2020 where our colleagues Brian, Ray, Luke and Mike lost their lives too soon. We will not stop in pursuit of learning important lessons from this darkest of days and sharing these lessons with the wider industry.

The second event was the global pandemic. For most of the year the Covid-19 pandemic affected everything we did. We had to work in different ways to help keep everyone safe, including a sudden shift to home working and working with new PPE.

Wessex Water continued to provide high standards of services to customers and communities throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and was able to carry out environmental improvement work, maintain operational performance and deliver a major multimillion-pound investment programme.

Among the achievements was dealing with yet more extreme weather – including an exceptionally dry April and one of our wettest Octobers on record. Interruptions to customers’ water supply reduced and sewer flooding incidents were better than target.

Looking to the future

As we look forward, we see a great opportunity to enhance what we do and how we do it. Our aim is to encourage thinking in terms of the things that really matter to customers, communities and the environment.

Our aim is to encourage thinking in terms of the things that really matter to customers, communities and the environment. These include:

  • safe, reliable water
  • an effective sewerage system
  • an improved environment
  • great customer service
  • affordable bills.

If we can do that on a catchment scale, with catchment partners, through a catchment market, we could deliver more for less.

This is a pivotal moment for Wessex Water and the whole industry: by embracing catchment approaches, nature based solutions and a focus on our target of carbon neutrality by 2030, we can make a real difference.

Serving people and places

We are pleased to remain one of the top performers in the water sector for customer service, placed first of all the water and sewerage companies in C-MeX, Ofwat’s measure of customer experience. CCW, the independent voice for water consumers, confirmed that we continue to have the lowest number of complaints of all the water and sewerage companies.

Group of Wessex Water volunteers outside planting trees

What we offered

This year we have again received the Customer Service Excellence award and achieved the Service Mark with distinction from the Institute of Customer Service, one of only 15 companies to hold the accreditation to this level. Separately, the Institute runs a survey of customers and we have set ourselves the challenge of being in the top 20 UK service providers on the Institute of Customer Service survey by 2025.

Our tailored assistance programme (tap) continues to offer customers financial support through a range of schemes and low-rate tariffs, to help them afford their ongoing charges and repay their debt. Just over 15,000 customers are receiving discounts of up to 90% through our Assist tariff. More than 22,000 low income pensioners are receiving at least £60 off their bill.

Launched in summer 2020, the Wessex Water Foundation provides funding to projects that bring people together and build stronger communities. Working in partnership with community foundations across our region, our foundation has already supported a variety of groups in local communities.

During 2020-21 we launched a digital water use calculator tool – GetWaterFit – that helps customers to understand their usage and order free water saving devices. In addition to our 16 permanent refill points in towns across our supply area, we plan to install an additional nine refill points over the next few months as part of a major relaunch campaign to encourage a reduction in single-use plastic. We are also trialling an in-house Leaky Loo service to help customers identify and fix leaking toilets.

We engage extensively with our customers and stakeholders, both in day-to-day business and for specific programmes of work. Our Young People’s Panel of sixth formers from schools and colleges across our region has just completed its fifth year. Despite the challenges of undertaking the programme entirely online this year, the panel successfully worked on a customer-facing campaign on hard water.

Improving 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.

Clatworthy Dam

Tackling climate change

We recognise we have an important role in helping tackle climate change and nature emergencies the world is facing. In 2020, water companies in England produced a route map to achieving net zero operational carbon emissions by 2030. This was the first sector route map of its kind in the world, and we will be publishing our own detailed plan in summer 2021. We will also produce our third climate change adaptation report in 2021.

This year we joined forces with Somerset Wildlife Trust to work towards cleaner rivers and good quality habitats for wildlife. Funded by us, the aim of the project is to recruit and train local volunteers – the Water Guardians – to monitor watercourses, identify possible pollution incidents and report them to Wessex Water for further investigation.

Empowering our people

Throughout the year, the Wessex Water team showed resilience and fortitude in ensuring our services were unaffected by the pandemic. We have had to work in different ways to help keep everyone safe, including a sudden shift to home working and working with new PPE. Our services to customers and communities, our environmental improvement work, as well as our compliance with standards, operational performance and delivery of our investment programme, were all largely unaffected.

Protecting our people

Following the tragic incident at Avonmouth we are committed to understanding why the incident happened and sharing any lessons with the wider industry. Protecting the health, safety and welfare of our colleagues, contractors and customers is a shared responsibility and we continue to deliver a strong health, safety and welfare culture in our day-to-day operations.

In our business, you’ll often hear us say, 'Everyone belongs'. We value differences at Wessex Water and firmly believe a diverse workforce brings different perspectives, ideas and solutions. Current areas of focus include reflecting the diversity of the community we serve and we regularly analyse data and set ourselves goals to target 'coldspots' and attract more diverse people.

Financing the future

We aim to be a trusted, financially strong company. The Wessex Water Marketplace allows us to champion innovative ideas both internally and externally and achieve value for money. Our online Marketplace platform enables us to share our data and pose challenges to the market. To date we have run 13 challenges through the Marketplace, covering activities across the business including leakage and sewer misuse.

Site managers assessing the site

Innovative thinking

Through our 'intelligent sewers' challenge, we shared historical data on the wastewater network in our Bath catchment. We received 16 bids and ran a three-month trial with three potential providers. We are now beginning the process of rolling out one of these software solutions across our network and believe this will deliver an industry leading solution to managing our wastewater network.

We have also championed the delivery of environment-based solutions for nutrient removal, working with farmers and local landowners to not only reduce the nutrient impact on the environment, but also to create added benefits such as carbon reduction and enhanced biodiversity.

We believe it is important for regulators to “be brave and step into a new method of delivering environmental improvements”. We encourage Defra, the Environment Agency and Ofwat to enable and encourage the industry to play as big a role as possible in improving the environment in innovative and efficient ways.