What do the cities of Bristol, Amsterdam, Brussels, Helsinki and Seville have in common? Vibrant culture? Stunning architecture? Fascinating history? Great food? A love of sport? All of course true, but perhaps less well known is that all are served by water companies with around one million consumers.
Bristol Water is one of the smaller water companies in the UK, but is actually much more similar in size to many of our European counterparts. So what can we learn from these other companies, and how do their experiences relate to the challenges we face here in Bristol?
The latest edition of the European Benchmarking Co-operation’s public reports has been published this week, setting out details of the performance of 44 companies from 20 different countries across Europe and beyond, against a variety of metrics.
This is the third year that Bristol Water has participated in this exercise. We believe that benchmarking our performance in this way provides us with a number of benefits. It broadens our horizons, allowing us to find out what others do to tackle similar challenges to those we face here, for example how companies responded to the effects of the hot, dry summer of 2018 as it increased demand for water beyond normally expected levels. Different technologies and innovations are emerging all the time, and it is important to keep pace with the ideas that can shape the future of our industry.
Benchmarking in this way isn’t about finding out who is the best, it is about identifying ways to do things better. And this comes back, in part, to the size issue – 13 other companies in this year’s exercise supply a population of between 1 and 3 million people, similar to the 1.2 million we supply. This is important in the context of our role as a local water company, close to our customers and communities. And as we try to learn from others and share our own experiences, we think this can benefit the wider community as we all strive to improve the services we provide.
European water companies are normally publically owned by local councils or municipalities, so their sense of duty and service to their communities is every bit as strong as ours in the Bristol area, and there are lessons we can learn on how to make sure they are customer focussed and driven. Whilst ownership and operating models can be different, the common theme of wanting to provide the best possible essential public service is evident. This is a theme that we have sought to embrace as we develop our social contract, looking at how we can work closely with and for our communities.
We are particularly proud to have been included in this year’s EBC report as a good practice case study on how we have engaged with customers on our performance. It is important to us that our customers and stakeholders can clearly understand how we are performing, so they can challenge us to improve where they think we need to, and transparency and public participation are two key themes of our social contract. We presented at the workshop last year in Athens our interactive performance graphic, and explained how we worked with our Bristol Water Challenge Panel and our Customer Forum to ensure that we are measuring the right things and reporting them in a way that customers can understand and relate to.
The next challenge is to use the data and information we have discovered through benchmarking participation to help deliver improvements within Bristol Water, to find new ways to innovate and work smarter. Sharing knowledge and co-operating with others can only help in this, to the benefit of everyone.
James Holman – Head of Economic Regulation