Wessex Water delivers high performance during the pandemic

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

Our annual results published today (14 July, 2021) show how we adapted well to the impact of the pandemic and provided a range of support for customers and communities.

More than 14,500 frontline NHS workers were provided with a rebate to cover the costs of extra uniform washing and Wessex Water helped customers facing financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic by making it as easy as possible for them to access support for paying bills. The Wessex Water Foundation also provided immediate support to local community groups affected by Covid-19, with over £175,000 donated to those who needed it most.

But the year was overshadowed by the tragic incident at Avonmouth on 3 December 2020, in which four colleagues lost their lives. Chief Executive Colin Skellett said: “The whole Wessex Water family was devastated by the tragic events at Avonmouth. We are determined to learn from this darkest of days and to share these lessons with the wider industry. We continue to assist the authorities in their investigations.”

Wessex Water’s performance during 2020-21 was recognised through numerous awards, reviews and ranking tables. The body representing water customers in the UK, CCW, reported for the tenth year running that we had the fewest complaints of all water and sewerage companies. TrustPilot ratings showed 87% of reviewers gave a five-star rating and once again the Customer Service Excellence award was retained. 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.

Improving the environment

Wessex Water is committed to providing a better environment for nature and people with a target to achieve net zero carbon by 2030 and has an important role in helping tackle the climate and nature emergencies the world is facing.

Mr Skellett said: “Our rivers need looking after more than ever and chalk streams and other water resources need to be maintained in good health.

“Storm overflows have rightly been brought to the public attention in recent months. They are a legacy of the development of sewerage networks and essential to prevent flooding. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have storm overflows and it’s important we eliminate any that cause harm to the environment. By monitoring three-quarters of storm overflows in our region, rising to 100% by 2023, we have a better understanding of when they operate and which impact on river water quality.”

Storm overflows rarely cause a pollution when they operate as designed but they can discharge due to blocked sewers downstream. This can be prevented by not flushing wet wipes – a problem that results in thousands of sewer blockages a year and causes pollution and flooding incidents.

During the year Wessex Water continued to meet our performance commitments for the abstraction incentive mechanism where we voluntarily reduce abstraction to conserve stream flows. We also saw net greenhouse gas emissions falling for a tenth consecutive year leading to our lowest carbon footprint since we began reporting in 1997.

Future focus

Wessex Water said it was 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.

Mr Skellett added: “We consistently rank as the best water and sewerage company in the country against the metrics our regulators use to compare us. But we also need them to provide the freedom for us to operate in sustainable and innovative ways that will create wider benefits for the customers and communities we serve.”

Financial results for 2020-21 showed operating profit fell by £42.2m to £170.3m and turnover reduced by £37.7m to £514.6m.

Find out more about our annual results.