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www.watercommission.co.uk
Regulation and
governance
14th June 2021
A successful water industry requires several elements to be in place…
• Experience from a wide range of jurisdictions
suggests that the following factors are critical:
– Clarity of required outcomes
– The governance and design of the water and
wastewater services delivery vehicles
– Scale
– Management
– Robust and empowered water quality and
environmental regulation
– Independent economic regulation
• However, this accumulated experience also
suggests that there are other factors that do
not automatically impact reform outcomes
either positively or negatively:
– Ownership
– Competition (either ‘for’ or ‘in’ the market)
Taking these factors in turn… Firstly, clarity in specifying outcomes…
• For the foreseeable future, there is likely to be more demand for improvements than resources available to fund them (this still applies in Scotland
where reform is now twenty years old). In its early days, Scotland faced issues associated with the capacity to plan and operate; and of the supply
chain ability to deliver. Any country attempting a water sector reform nowadays will likely face similar challenges.
• One of the most immediate challenges will likely be difficult political decisions about charging:
- Should there be ‘postage stamp’ pricing?
- How much regional variation in charges is acceptable?
- Should charges be cost reflective? Or should there be a social cross-subsidy?
- How will charging policy impact on creating the right incentives to deal with adaptation to climate change?
• There will also be a need to establish initial priorities: for example, adapting to and mitigating climate change; responding to, and facilitating, growth;
drinking water quality; rivers versus estuaries versus seas etc.
• These choices – both about charging policy and priorities – will likely need to be reviewed periodically. The experience from Great Britain shows that
these are choices that, realistically, can only be taken by Central Government, with input from local Government and other stakeholders.
• Experience suggests that placing a duty on regulators to make these decisions will likely result in sub-optimal decisions. Two issues have to be
considered:
- Is it appropriate for regulators to take essentially political decisions? What would be the basis of their legitimacy in this regard?
- Do economic regulators have a good track record of balancing (potentially competing) objectives, some of which it may be very difficult to quantify.
In the United Kingdom, for example, there appears to be greater priority accorded to new investment at the expense of a pro-active asset
management and replacement programme.
• Finally, there are some issues that only Government has any real ability to address: such as, for example, seismic risk (where appropriate);
reputational issues (a pristine environment facilitates tourism and agricultural exports).
Taking these factors in turn… Second, governance, design and scale of
the water and wastewater services delivery vehicles…
• Water and wastewater services are delivered under long-term licences in England and Wales. There was some evidence of an absence of long-
term thinking immediately post privatisation – licences were initially for 25 years and could be terminated (with ten years notice from year
15). There was clear evidence that asset repair and refurbishment was not a priority, given the time remaining on the licence.
• Some water entities in England and Wales overstretched themselves. For example, Welsh Water established its own consultancy business,
invested in hotels and in an electricity distribution business. Others set about challenging Veolia and Suez in the international market for
concessions.
• There were consistent issues with transfer pricing between regulated and non-regulated subsidiaries.
• Management of the regulated entity was not always empowered to take decisions – responses were often reserved to the holding company
Board – limiting the immediate influence of the economic regulator.
• In Ireland, Irish Water’s ability to progress (it was created in 2013) has been limited by several factors, including the design of the water and
wastewater delivery. For example, the 31 local authorities continue to provide the water and wastewater services through contracts. There are
no household charges. The economic regulator appears to be essentially advisory. These factors have all combined to limit performance
improvement.
• In Scotland, there is no licence, but Scottish Water’s powers are set in statute. Importantly, the whole entity is subject to economic regulation
so while there are still potential issues with transfer pricing, these can be dealt with effectively by the regulator. Regulation of the entire entity
ensures that the regulator is dealing with a management fully empowered to deliver the agreed regulatory contract.
• Whether by licence or by statute, the focus of the regulated entity has to be on the delivery of outcomes that are required by Government
and the respective regulators. Excellence in delivery is critical to the reputation of the organisation and those that are responsible for its
governance and management.
Taking these factors in turn… Third, attracting and retaining good
management…
• All of our regulatory modelling excludes factors that are under the direct control of management.
• This is because the quality of management can have a quick and material impact. The merger to create Scottish Water allowed for a
strong new team to be established under highly experienced leadership. Given that the regulatory regime was still quite immature, this
was clearly an important catalyst for early improvement in performance.
• It is striking how much the performance of companies in England has ebbed and flowed under different management regimes – several
companies have been both towards the top and bottom of the performance league tables (relative costs and levels of service). These
include six of the ten largest water and sewerage companies: Thames, United Utilities, Welsh, Northumbrian, Southern, and South West.
• The private industry in England pays much higher salaries to its leaders than are paid in Scotland. Even so, there has been a consistent
political pressure to restrict pay of the senior management of Scottish Water further (‘should not be paid more than the First Minister’).
The Scottish Government has effectively resisted pressure to cap salaries, remove bonuses and other perks of the management of
Scottish Water.
• Scotland has benefitted from having a talented senior management team that is motivated by public service rather than financial gain.
The CE of Scottish Water receives a basic salary of just over £250,000 and can earn a bonus of up to 40%, depending on the organisation
hitting its performance targets. Total senior management (top 50) bonuses could reach about £1,500,000 in aggregate (about 0.15% of
annual expenditure). This compares with CE packages in England of in excess of £2m annually.
• Government steadfastness on remuneration issues and this public service commitment have been critical. In the absence of these
factors, Scotland could have a significant leadership retention problem.
Taking these factors in turn… Fourthly, effective regulation…
• Regulation has to be independent of Government insofar as how it delivers on its statutory function. It should always, however, be clear that
its role is to ensure that standards required by Government are delivered effectively (and within budgets).
• Regulation requires to be resourced effectively (a levy payment from the regulated entity can be effective at creating an appropriate tension).
• The water quality and environmental regulators should advise Government on standards and the rationale for change. This advice should
include both suggested deadlines for compliance but also what may be possible.
• The water quality and environment regulators should sign off on delivery of agreed and targeted investment outcomes. They should also
publish their thoughts on the performance of the water and wastewater services delivery entities.
• The economic regulator should be charged with setting prices that reflect the ‘efficient cost’ of service delivery that it is reasonable to expect.
Such price setting exercises should be transparent, engage stakeholders on the material issues and involve customer and community voices.
They should be for a minimum period of five years – but experience also suggests that charges setting needs to be consistent with the
achievement of the long-term outcomes desired by Government.
• The economic regulator should monitor progress against the ‘regulatory contract’ that results from a price setting exercise and report on
progress by the regulated entity against that contract.
• The economic regulatory process will have to be based soundly in detailed information collection and analysis because the opportunities to
use markets to explore the potential of dynamic efficiency are very limited in the water sector.
• An effective regulator will need to access information on a regular basis that is both extensive and detailed. This regular information would
likely be supplemented by tailored additional requests from time to time and in advance of a price setting exercise.
Experience suggests that neither ownership nor facilitating
competition are critical to success…
• Private ownership is rare in the water industry – and even where private capital is relied upon there are typically constraints on behaviours
built into licences or contracts (though these are not always triggered or as effective as might be considered desirable). For example, one
important area of tension between WICS and Scottish Water has been the regulator’s frustration that Scottish Water could enforce its PFI
contract rights more forcefully.
• But the observable and measurable success of Scottish Water (at least matching the performance of the best companies in England) suggests
that public ownership cannot ipso facto prevent leading edge performance from being achieved. Nor is Scottish Water totally unique in its
relative success. The public Eau de Paris is at least as effective as other municipalities/ regions in France. Similarly, the water industry in the
Netherlands is in public ownership and consistently performs well in international comparisons. Bad public governance (like bad private
governance) will likely result in performance falling short.
• There is no evidence that long-term private concessions perform better than alternative governance approaches. There is an extensive
literature on failing concessions (to which Scotland could add with its wastewater PFI projects). When capital needs to be deployed in such
arrangements, there is an extensive track-record of disputes relating to the residual value of assets that were created during the life of the
concession (precisely because extended asset lives typically exceed the length of even the longest concession contract). Some short-term
concession arrangements can work, but those that are successful typically appear to focus only on operations.
• Interestingly, Welsh Water moved away from a concession/ sub-contract approach when it could not meet the targets being set by its
economic regulator (it now meets them comfortably).
• An analysis of the water sector value chain makes it difficult to identify areas where ‘in the market’ competition could work – except perhaps
for ‘retail services’ to non-households. If there is to be any social policy role in how charges are set for households, household retail
competition would be highly unlikely to be effective.
Successes and lessons learnt – moving forward…
• At the start of the reform process in Scotland, there was a lack of general optimism in ‘political and civic’ Scotland that the industry could match or
exceed the performance of the privatised companies in England and Wales. There was a sense that falling a little short would be an acceptable price top
pay for the industry remaining publicly owned.
• However, this ignored several factors:
– Scotland was able to learn what it was possible to expect from a well-performing water industry – precisely because service levels, investment delivery and
efficiency were all markedly better in England and Wales.
– Scotland’s relatively small size facilitated communication between service providers, regulators and policy makers (they could – and still do – get together in
one room!).
– National pride in our environment and water were strong motivations for improvement.
• Scotland was therefore able to avoid some teething problems, which had slowed progress in England (e.g. insufficiently demanding efficiency targets,
overly generous price caps).
• As a final step before embracing more radical reform, Scotland used PFI/ Concession arrangements. These were quickly seen to be very expensive
relative to what was being achieved in England. This experience and other examples suggest that sub-contracting markets are not necessary for (and
may be detrimental to) success.
• However, the success in Scotland did not come without mistakes, and there were many of them. For example, we have paid insufficient attention to
asset replacement; had too much focus on borrowing; and insufficient focus on the long-term outcomes that are being targeted. The reform process
will have taken 41 years by 2040 – when we project that we should achieve steady state…
Water Industry Commission for Scotland
First Floor, Moray House, Forthside Way, Stirling FK8 1QZ
E: enquiries@watercommission.co.uk
T: +44(0) 1786 430200
www.watercommission.co.uk
www.scotlandontap.gov.uk
@WICScotland

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  • 2. A successful water industry requires several elements to be in place… • Experience from a wide range of jurisdictions suggests that the following factors are critical: – Clarity of required outcomes – The governance and design of the water and wastewater services delivery vehicles – Scale – Management – Robust and empowered water quality and environmental regulation – Independent economic regulation • However, this accumulated experience also suggests that there are other factors that do not automatically impact reform outcomes either positively or negatively: – Ownership – Competition (either ‘for’ or ‘in’ the market)
  • 3. Taking these factors in turn… Firstly, clarity in specifying outcomes… • For the foreseeable future, there is likely to be more demand for improvements than resources available to fund them (this still applies in Scotland where reform is now twenty years old). In its early days, Scotland faced issues associated with the capacity to plan and operate; and of the supply chain ability to deliver. Any country attempting a water sector reform nowadays will likely face similar challenges. • One of the most immediate challenges will likely be difficult political decisions about charging: - Should there be ‘postage stamp’ pricing? - How much regional variation in charges is acceptable? - Should charges be cost reflective? Or should there be a social cross-subsidy? - How will charging policy impact on creating the right incentives to deal with adaptation to climate change? • There will also be a need to establish initial priorities: for example, adapting to and mitigating climate change; responding to, and facilitating, growth; drinking water quality; rivers versus estuaries versus seas etc. • These choices – both about charging policy and priorities – will likely need to be reviewed periodically. The experience from Great Britain shows that these are choices that, realistically, can only be taken by Central Government, with input from local Government and other stakeholders. • Experience suggests that placing a duty on regulators to make these decisions will likely result in sub-optimal decisions. Two issues have to be considered: - Is it appropriate for regulators to take essentially political decisions? What would be the basis of their legitimacy in this regard? - Do economic regulators have a good track record of balancing (potentially competing) objectives, some of which it may be very difficult to quantify. In the United Kingdom, for example, there appears to be greater priority accorded to new investment at the expense of a pro-active asset management and replacement programme. • Finally, there are some issues that only Government has any real ability to address: such as, for example, seismic risk (where appropriate); reputational issues (a pristine environment facilitates tourism and agricultural exports).
  • 4. Taking these factors in turn… Second, governance, design and scale of the water and wastewater services delivery vehicles… • Water and wastewater services are delivered under long-term licences in England and Wales. There was some evidence of an absence of long- term thinking immediately post privatisation – licences were initially for 25 years and could be terminated (with ten years notice from year 15). There was clear evidence that asset repair and refurbishment was not a priority, given the time remaining on the licence. • Some water entities in England and Wales overstretched themselves. For example, Welsh Water established its own consultancy business, invested in hotels and in an electricity distribution business. Others set about challenging Veolia and Suez in the international market for concessions. • There were consistent issues with transfer pricing between regulated and non-regulated subsidiaries. • Management of the regulated entity was not always empowered to take decisions – responses were often reserved to the holding company Board – limiting the immediate influence of the economic regulator. • In Ireland, Irish Water’s ability to progress (it was created in 2013) has been limited by several factors, including the design of the water and wastewater delivery. For example, the 31 local authorities continue to provide the water and wastewater services through contracts. There are no household charges. The economic regulator appears to be essentially advisory. These factors have all combined to limit performance improvement. • In Scotland, there is no licence, but Scottish Water’s powers are set in statute. Importantly, the whole entity is subject to economic regulation so while there are still potential issues with transfer pricing, these can be dealt with effectively by the regulator. Regulation of the entire entity ensures that the regulator is dealing with a management fully empowered to deliver the agreed regulatory contract. • Whether by licence or by statute, the focus of the regulated entity has to be on the delivery of outcomes that are required by Government and the respective regulators. Excellence in delivery is critical to the reputation of the organisation and those that are responsible for its governance and management.
  • 5. Taking these factors in turn… Third, attracting and retaining good management… • All of our regulatory modelling excludes factors that are under the direct control of management. • This is because the quality of management can have a quick and material impact. The merger to create Scottish Water allowed for a strong new team to be established under highly experienced leadership. Given that the regulatory regime was still quite immature, this was clearly an important catalyst for early improvement in performance. • It is striking how much the performance of companies in England has ebbed and flowed under different management regimes – several companies have been both towards the top and bottom of the performance league tables (relative costs and levels of service). These include six of the ten largest water and sewerage companies: Thames, United Utilities, Welsh, Northumbrian, Southern, and South West. • The private industry in England pays much higher salaries to its leaders than are paid in Scotland. Even so, there has been a consistent political pressure to restrict pay of the senior management of Scottish Water further (‘should not be paid more than the First Minister’). The Scottish Government has effectively resisted pressure to cap salaries, remove bonuses and other perks of the management of Scottish Water. • Scotland has benefitted from having a talented senior management team that is motivated by public service rather than financial gain. The CE of Scottish Water receives a basic salary of just over £250,000 and can earn a bonus of up to 40%, depending on the organisation hitting its performance targets. Total senior management (top 50) bonuses could reach about £1,500,000 in aggregate (about 0.15% of annual expenditure). This compares with CE packages in England of in excess of £2m annually. • Government steadfastness on remuneration issues and this public service commitment have been critical. In the absence of these factors, Scotland could have a significant leadership retention problem.
  • 6. Taking these factors in turn… Fourthly, effective regulation… • Regulation has to be independent of Government insofar as how it delivers on its statutory function. It should always, however, be clear that its role is to ensure that standards required by Government are delivered effectively (and within budgets). • Regulation requires to be resourced effectively (a levy payment from the regulated entity can be effective at creating an appropriate tension). • The water quality and environmental regulators should advise Government on standards and the rationale for change. This advice should include both suggested deadlines for compliance but also what may be possible. • The water quality and environment regulators should sign off on delivery of agreed and targeted investment outcomes. They should also publish their thoughts on the performance of the water and wastewater services delivery entities. • The economic regulator should be charged with setting prices that reflect the ‘efficient cost’ of service delivery that it is reasonable to expect. Such price setting exercises should be transparent, engage stakeholders on the material issues and involve customer and community voices. They should be for a minimum period of five years – but experience also suggests that charges setting needs to be consistent with the achievement of the long-term outcomes desired by Government. • The economic regulator should monitor progress against the ‘regulatory contract’ that results from a price setting exercise and report on progress by the regulated entity against that contract. • The economic regulatory process will have to be based soundly in detailed information collection and analysis because the opportunities to use markets to explore the potential of dynamic efficiency are very limited in the water sector. • An effective regulator will need to access information on a regular basis that is both extensive and detailed. This regular information would likely be supplemented by tailored additional requests from time to time and in advance of a price setting exercise.
  • 7. Experience suggests that neither ownership nor facilitating competition are critical to success… • Private ownership is rare in the water industry – and even where private capital is relied upon there are typically constraints on behaviours built into licences or contracts (though these are not always triggered or as effective as might be considered desirable). For example, one important area of tension between WICS and Scottish Water has been the regulator’s frustration that Scottish Water could enforce its PFI contract rights more forcefully. • But the observable and measurable success of Scottish Water (at least matching the performance of the best companies in England) suggests that public ownership cannot ipso facto prevent leading edge performance from being achieved. Nor is Scottish Water totally unique in its relative success. The public Eau de Paris is at least as effective as other municipalities/ regions in France. Similarly, the water industry in the Netherlands is in public ownership and consistently performs well in international comparisons. Bad public governance (like bad private governance) will likely result in performance falling short. • There is no evidence that long-term private concessions perform better than alternative governance approaches. There is an extensive literature on failing concessions (to which Scotland could add with its wastewater PFI projects). When capital needs to be deployed in such arrangements, there is an extensive track-record of disputes relating to the residual value of assets that were created during the life of the concession (precisely because extended asset lives typically exceed the length of even the longest concession contract). Some short-term concession arrangements can work, but those that are successful typically appear to focus only on operations. • Interestingly, Welsh Water moved away from a concession/ sub-contract approach when it could not meet the targets being set by its economic regulator (it now meets them comfortably). • An analysis of the water sector value chain makes it difficult to identify areas where ‘in the market’ competition could work – except perhaps for ‘retail services’ to non-households. If there is to be any social policy role in how charges are set for households, household retail competition would be highly unlikely to be effective.
  • 8. Successes and lessons learnt – moving forward… • At the start of the reform process in Scotland, there was a lack of general optimism in ‘political and civic’ Scotland that the industry could match or exceed the performance of the privatised companies in England and Wales. There was a sense that falling a little short would be an acceptable price top pay for the industry remaining publicly owned. • However, this ignored several factors: – Scotland was able to learn what it was possible to expect from a well-performing water industry – precisely because service levels, investment delivery and efficiency were all markedly better in England and Wales. – Scotland’s relatively small size facilitated communication between service providers, regulators and policy makers (they could – and still do – get together in one room!). – National pride in our environment and water were strong motivations for improvement. • Scotland was therefore able to avoid some teething problems, which had slowed progress in England (e.g. insufficiently demanding efficiency targets, overly generous price caps). • As a final step before embracing more radical reform, Scotland used PFI/ Concession arrangements. These were quickly seen to be very expensive relative to what was being achieved in England. This experience and other examples suggest that sub-contracting markets are not necessary for (and may be detrimental to) success. • However, the success in Scotland did not come without mistakes, and there were many of them. For example, we have paid insufficient attention to asset replacement; had too much focus on borrowing; and insufficient focus on the long-term outcomes that are being targeted. The reform process will have taken 41 years by 2040 – when we project that we should achieve steady state…
  • 9. Water Industry Commission for Scotland First Floor, Moray House, Forthside Way, Stirling FK8 1QZ E: enquiries@watercommission.co.uk T: +44(0) 1786 430200 www.watercommission.co.uk www.scotlandontap.gov.uk @WICScotland