A strategy for introducing competition in the water sector (published in Utilities Policy)
The authors took part in an independent review of competition and innovation in the water industry in England and Wales, undertaken for United Kingdom and Welsh government ministers. Privatised twenty years ago, subject to a price control regime which has permitted high levels of investment, and unchanged as a set of vertically integrated regional monopolies, the sector now faces fresh challenges associated in particular with the consequences of climate change. The review identified a programme for the introduction of competition and use of market-type instruments into the sector, beginning with opening up retailing to business customers and reforms of the arrangements for abstraction and discharge which are intended to achieve a more rational use of water resources and to stimulate trading across company boundaries. Then, subject to an appropriate governance structure, competition would be introduced into upstream treatment activities, either by the creation of a single buyer of wholesale water or through a common carriage regime. At the same time, the balance of risk of and return to companies’ remaining regulated activities would be changed to encourage more innovative approaches, especially those which avoid heavy capital investment. Heightened stimuli to investment would also flow from relaxing restrictions on mergers and takeovers, and measures to enhance the innovative capabilities of companies. The paper explains the logic of the proposed measures and of their sequencing.