THE VITAL PUBLIC HEALTH ROLE OF THE WATER SECTOR

Posted: Tuesday 5th July 2011

Leading industry and public health speakers met in Swansea recently as part of a Conference to highlight the vital public health role that the water sector fulfils each day.

More than 160 delegates attended the Institute of Water’s ‘For the Health of the Nation’ Conference and heard keynote speaker Nigel Annett, Managing Director of Dwr Cymru Welsh Water give his experience of the significant challenges faced when delivering water and wastewater services to Wales.

Nigel explained the importance of companies focussing on the public health and other key social outcomes they deliver successfully each and every day for their communities. The company would ultimately be judged on these outcomes. In Wales, expectations continue to rise and the people, and government, rightly expect to have the highest levels of water and sewerage services at all times. Dwr Cymru had changed its structure and approach to ensure it will be able to meet these changing expectations in the most efficient and cost effective way.

A highly experienced panel of John Mowbray, Director of Corporate Affairs, Northumbrian Water; Claire Riley, Head of Strategic Communications, NHS Strategic Health Authority and Chris Lines, Director of Communications, Public Health Wales, talked delegates through the reasons they felt it was essential to engage with communities, the business benefits of doing so and the techniques that had delivered the best results.

John Mowbray gave extensive examples of the work that Northumbrian Water had done to build its whole business around community engagement, and showed evidence of how their Board’s investment in communication had delivered them hard business and financial benefits. Claire Riley supported John’s comments on the importance of focussing on excellence in the areas on which the community judges your worth on, and gave an enlightening presentation on the close synergy between the engagement issues faced by the public health and water sectors. Claire and Chris Lines both shared their experience of dealing with initial consumer apathy, and how their work had managed to bring about emotive and valuable engagement. Chris recommended that it was vital for the water industry to gain consumers support if the relationship between both parties was to remain sustainable, and that this would become even more critical when major financial or service choices needed to be made.

Maintaining the achievements, protecting public health

Jeni Colbourne, Chief Inspector at the Drinking Water Inspectorate, then gave her views on the track record of the water industry in protecting public health, and shared her concerns regarding the risks and potential threats to maintaining that performance in the future. Jeni complimented the sector on its overall drinking water quality results to date, but there was a great deal more still to be done. The importance of the public health role that water companies perform could not be overstated and they must keep evolving. There could be no let up in standards or room for complacency. In particular, Jeni highlighted her concerns that there should be more investment in industry technical skills for the future.

Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive of Water UK and a Patron of the Institute of Water, gave her views on the important points raised in Jeni Colbourne’s speech, and re-emphasised the vital role that water companies will continue to play in ensuring the health of society. Water companies took their duties extremely seriously and Pamela believed that the companies were alive to the challenges facing them. Pamela gave on overview of the Water UK’s vision for how the industry must now evolve for the future and assured the Drinking Water Inspectorate that they would continue to see excellent stewardship of drinking water by the water companies.

George Butler, the Director of Asset Management for Northern Ireland Water and new President of the Institute’s Northern Ireland area, then finished the session off by providing a highly relevant case study on the experiences his team had when freezing winter temperatures affected their networks and customer services. A particularly lively discussion followed focussing on the benefits and application of mutual aid.

Other high profile speakers included Diane McCrea, Chair of the Consumer Council for Water in Wales; Julian Dennis, the Director of Compliance and Sustainability at Wessex Water; Ian Limb, the Personnel and Safety Manager for Portsmouth Water (and the Continuing Professional Development champion for the Institute) and Tim Balcon, Institute Past National President and Chief Executive of Energy and Utility Skills.

Nick Ellins, the newly elected president of Institute of Water said: “Each year our conferences attract some of the most influential suppliers, contractors, consultants and company personnel in the sector and this year’s was no exception.

“The presentations were educational and thought provoking and the event offered delegates an invaluable opportunity to make new contacts as well as learn more about key challenges facing the industry.”

For more information about the Institute of Water, visit www.instituteofwater.org.uk




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