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Water Supply

Volume 481: debated on Tuesday 21 October 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government have taken to ensure water companies maintain pipe work and mains to high standards. (227813)

Each water company is required to maintain its assets so that it can provide services to consumers over the long-term, while protecting the environment. In its role as the independent economic regulator for the water industry, Ofwat monitors how well each company is maintaining its assets in its annual serviceability assessments. Serviceability is the capability of a system of assets to deliver the right level of service to consumers now and in the future.

During price reviews, Ofwat assesses each company's outputs and its plans for future maintenance. Price limits are set at a level that allows for sufficient maintenance of the asset systems.

Companies that have had a deteriorating assessment have been required to produce action plans to deliver stable serviceability.

In February 2006, Ofwat wrote to all water and sewerage companies (MD212, 'Asset Management Planning to Maintain Serviceability'). This signalled Ofwat's intention that if a company cannot demonstrate stable serviceability at the price review in 2009 it will treat this as a shortfall in delivery. Shortfalls are where a company fails to deliver outputs, targets or service levels specified in price limits. Ofwat recovers the money set aside for these, on behalf of customers, when it next sets price limits.

A further letter (PR09/06, 'Setting Price Limits—Logging Down and Shortfalling' in November 2007) sets out how shortfalls would be applied in respect of failure to deliver serviceability outputs (section 2.1). This has focused the attention of the water and sewerage companies on the issue.

Ofwat's work over the last few years has culminated in its ability to report a marked improvement in serviceability for 2007-08. Details of these and other regulatory actions are set out in Ofwat's set of reports on company performance which can be found on the Ofwat website.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government has taken to ensure water companies provide safe and clean water. (227814)

The Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) was formed in 1990 and acts as the independent regulator of the quality and safety of the public water supply in England and Wales.

The powers and duties of the inspectorate set out in the Water Industry Act 1991 were strengthened by the Water Act 2003.

Scrutiny of the water companies by the inspectorate has resulted in improved compliance with European drinking water standards from 95 per cent. in 1991 to 99.96 per cent. in 2007. On the advice of the inspectorate, the drinking water regulations were amended in 2007. These changes introduced a requirement for water companies to implement a risk management approach to water safety.