Oral - Water Consultation
I am pleased to let Assembly Members know that I published the Welsh Assembly Government’s strategic policy position statement on water today. This publication follows a period for comment, which opened on 14 January, and fulfils my commitment to outline our core principles and priorities for the delivery of water services in Wales.
The timing of this position statement is critical. Later this year, Ofwat will conclude its review of the prices that water companies can charge customers for the 2010 to 2015 period, and we are also in the middle of implementing the water framework directive, which is a major piece of European legislation that will drive the way in which water is managed. In addition, two major independent reviews, examining the long-term direction for both competition and innovation and charging and metering in the water industry, will conclude over the next few months.
The current economic climate and changing social and environmental conditions require us to give clear and firm direction to those responsible for influencing and managing water resources and services in
The Assembly Government provides the strategic direction for the water sector in Wales and our role is framed within a complex set of regulatory and operational responsibilities. Many of these responsibilities apply in a similar way in Wales and England but there are some areas where we have particular challenges in Wales, which will require a distinctive approach to the supply and disposal of water.
Our core principles in relation to water are: to ensure access to safe drinking water; maintaining water and sewerage services at an affordable price; and compliance with statutory obligations that drive all-round water quality. The position statement makes clear how the particular circumstances relating to water and the water industry in Wales provide a distinctive context for Assembly Government policy in general on water, and gives firm messages on the areas that will most affect water services in the near future.
Professor Martin Cave is leading an independent review of competition and innovation in the water market. It is considering the scope for further competition in the water industry to deliver benefits for customers and will report in April 2009. We consider innovation to be crucial to the long-term sustainability of any industry in meeting the needs of its customers, but we remain to be convinced of the benefits to customers of increasing retail competition in this sector.
Anna Walker is leading an independent review of household charging and metering for water and sewerage services. Affordability is always a key concern and we are committed to ensuring that water resources are managed effectively while making sure that the charging system is fair and equal. We want customers to have a choice of charging options that will drive up efficiencies, reduce debt issues and deliver benefits for all customers while protecting vulnerable groups. Our commitment to protecting vulnerable groups combined with the current resource situation in Wales means that compulsory metering or the increased uptake of metering is not generally appropriate at the present time. We need to find innovative ways to encourage the careful use of water across society. The increased use of metering will have a role to play in the long term. In the first instance, metering should be targeted at luxury users such as swimming pools and spas to ensure a more efficient use of water.
Our statement also recognises our commitment to sustainable development, both here and in the global context. Efficient water use is the key to long-term sustainable management everywhere. Water efficiency messages will continue to form part of our climate change communication campaigns. That includes recognising the hidden or embedded water that has been used to produce food and other goods, often in parts of the world where water is a scarce resource.
A changing climate requires us to be even more aware of how water is managed and to take a long-term approach to its management, using appropriate risk-based assessments and building resilience for the future. To achieve our objectives in relation to water, it is essential that we continue to work in partnership with all those involved in the provision of water services. We will evolve the current periodic review forum into the Wales strategic water forum. That forum will continue and further the partnership working that was enjoyed through the periodic review forum following the periodic review process.
The statement also outlines how we are pursuing regulations that will bring an end to the worries of those with private sewers. We acknowledge that the regulatory process takes time and we are working with Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water to establish the extent of the private sewer problems, to give us the information needed for a meaningful regulatory transfer.
We are absolutely clear about the priority that we place on the delivery of reliable and affordable, high-quality drinking water and sewerage services for the people of Wales. I am pleased to announce that we are already making progress on the delivery of the commitments outlined in the statement. We are currently consulting on the introduction of new regulations to help to safeguard the quality of private drinking water supplies in Wales. The position statement focuses on areas in which our policy is being revised or developed to help to respond to new pressures and wider challenges now and in the future.
The overarching message is that we must manage water sustainably and continue to deliver reliable and affordable, high-quality drinking water and sewerage services for the citizens of Wales and to protect the environment of Wales. That approach is consistent with the Assembly Government’s wider policy framework, particularly the new sustainable development scheme for Wales, 'One Wales: One Planet’, the environment strategy for Wales, and the climate change strategy for Wales.