Water industry fares well in international line-up - says Ofwat report

May 04, 2007

The water industry in England and Wales compares well against a wide range of countries in Europe, North America and Australia, says a new report published by Ofwat in April.

Standards of customer service are generally high, bills are in line with most other countries, and water consumption per person is around average for Europe, although much lower than in Australia or the USA.

The report, 'International comparison of water and sewerage service 2007', builds on Ofwat's work in comparing the performance of water companies in countries throughout the world. This year the work has been expanded to include a number of companies in Portugal and Canada.

It draws on data from a wide range of sources but cautions, however, that although generalised conclusions can be reached, accurate comparisons with other countries are often difficult because of the widely varying methods of collecting data and compiling statistics.

Although customers in England and Wales generally pay around the same for their water as those in other countries in the study, there are some significant differences.
The price of water is subsidised by the state in some other European countries, and low levels of infrastructure investment in Italy have meant that water there remains relatively cheap. By contrast customers in Germany are bearing the costs of major investment in the water and sewerage networks, although now much of this has been carried out, prices are rising more slowly than in England and Wales.

Although it has proved difficult to draw detailed conclusions from the comparison of prices in other European countries, a German report (1) last year said that if the industry in that country, England and Wales, France and Italy operated on equal terms of investment, subsidies and quality standards, prices would be broadly similar.

Few countries collect customer service data in as detailed a way as that collected in England and Wales but Ofwat is working with the industry in other countries to improve the comparability of customer service data. Valid comparisons show that standards of service are significantly better than those in Scotland.

People in England and Wales use an average 150 litres of water per day, a figure mid-way on the international scale. Americans and Australians are revealed to be the biggest users, with per capita consumption in the USA is more than double that in Britain. Within Europe, the Spanish are the biggest users while consumption in the Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania is only two thirds of that in England and Wales.

Ofwat's Director of Network Regulation, Dr Melinda Acutt, said: "Customers will be pleased to learn that the service they get from their water company compares well with those in other countries. And we have found that companies in England and Wales are at least as efficient as their overseas counterparts."

The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) is the economic regulator of water and sewerage companies in England and Wales. It exercises its powers in a way that it judges will allow companies to carry out their functions properly, and finance them. Its duties include protecting the interests of consumers, wherever appropriate by promoting effective competition.

(1) VEWA – ' Comparison of European Water and Wastewater Prices ', available from Wirtschafts-und Verlagsgesellschaft Gas und Wasser mbH, Josef-Wirmer Str.3 d, 53123 Bonn, Germany, +49 228 91914-0 or info@wvgw.de

Further information:
Centre City Tower
7 Hill Street
Birmingham B5 4UA
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)121 625 1300 / 1373
Fax: +44 (0)121 625 1400
Email: enquiries@ofwat.gsi.gov.uk
Web: www.ofwat.gov.uk

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