The report, International Comparison of Water and Sewerage Service 2005 Report, examines the seven areas that form the basis of Ofwat’s comparative work on the water companies in England and Walse during the period 2002-03.

It compares the performance of the 22 companies in England and Wales with that of a range of water enterprises in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Australia and the United States.

Comparison with a lot of EU countries was difficult as the water industry is still an integral part of local government which doesn’t produce data in a similar form to that of commercial companies.

The study compared data on bills, customer service levels, water quality, water use, efficiency, network performance and financial performance. It found:

Bills:Domestic customers in England and Wales had similar bills to those in other countries and charges for business users were in line with European counterparts.

Customer Service Levels:In areas such as dealing with complaints, telephone enquiries, pressure levels and incidence of sewer flooding, customers in England and Wales received at least as good a service as those in other countries and a significantly better service than in Scotland.

Water quality and environmental performance:Water quality, as measured by levels of coliforms, lead, turbidity and colour, was better in England and Wales than Scotland or Northern Ireland. The quality of coastal waters in England and Wales was generally better than in Scotland and Northern Ireland although those countries had seen improvements over the previous five years. Australian enterprises which were studied tended to treat sewage to a higher level that in England and Wales.

Water use:The amount of water used in England and Wales is fairly similar to that in mainland Europe although lower than in Australia and the USA where much greater quantities are used for gardening and swimming pools. Leakage levels are highest in the USA and extremely low in the Netherlands where they report a range of between 8 and 37 litres per property per day.

Efficiency:Unit costs per property are broadly similar in Australia, the Netherlands and England and Wales but much higher in the USA. Companies in England and Wales were found to be much more efficient than Scottish Water.

Network performance:Most companies’ mains are in better condition than those in Scotland and are less likely to suffer bursts than those in Australia. Most companies’ sewers are in similar or better condition than Scotland s.

Financial Performance:Financial figures for areas such as the return on capital, dividend and interest cover appear to be broadly similar with bigger variations between individual companies than between countries.

In addition, Ofwat was given new powers this week to fine companies that do not meet required standards of performance. The powers were granted by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Margaret Beckett, and the Welsh Assembly. They come into force on April 1st 2005.

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