Mid Kent Water to improve communications following Ofwat report into supply interruption

Mid Kent Water has announced plans to improve supply management communications and decision making processes following the publication of an Ofwat report into a supply interruption in the company’s service area during July.

An Ofwat investigation blamed management failures for the supply interruption that left 3,000 villagers in the Kemsing and Plaxtol area of Kent without water for four days at the end of July this year.

Rather than blaming the failure on unprecedented demand, lack of water resources, or inadequate infrastructure, the report concluded that “the scale and length of the supply interruption was mainly due to a failure at director level to recognise and act on the potential consequences of a series of operational problems, up to and including Thursday 29 July. This meant remedial measures that could have been started immediately were not initiated until the following week.”

The report also showed that the situation was made worse by a failure to provide adequate emergency supplies and inadequate emergency co-ordination. Ofwat Director General, Ian Byatt said: “The combination of events meant it is possible that some customers would have experienced some interruptions to supply. However, the extent and duration of the incident, and the handling of the consequent customer issues were within management control, and the report identifies significant failings in these areas.”

Mid Kent Water’s 16-point plan includes:

  • A full review into the communication and decision making process on supply management in the area. The company says new processes and structures will be introduced to make better data more available to management.
  • The installation of a new switchboard and arrangements to bring in extra staff to handle calls during quiet hours.
  • Agreements with adjoining companies to provide emergency supplies and equipment in times of crisis.

Mid Kent Water’s updated contingency and emergency plan has been submitted to the Secretary of State for approval.

Responding to pressure from Byatt, Mid Kent Water has agreed to give domestic customers worst affected by the Kemsing interruption a rebate of £100.

‘The interruption in the supply of water in the Kemsing area at the end of July was most regrettable, and Mid Kent Water apologises unreservedly to those customers affected by it,” said Mike Clark, Managing Director of Mid Kent Water. “We published the 16-point plan in an effort to ensure, insofar as is possible given pipework infrastructure problems in our supply area, that there are no further similar incidents.

“We accept that, notwithstanding the experience, knowledge and dedication of the senior management team at the company – a point acknowledged by the Ofwat Inquiry Team – an error of judgement was made in not fully recognising the scale of the developing situation in the Kemsing area early enough to make the impact somewhat shorter in duration.

“In addition infrastructure difficulties during the course of the incident, while not primarily the root cause of the interruption, did compound our difficulties in attempting to resolve the situation sooner.

“Without the appropriate level of investment in what is an ageing and under-sized system for modern customer expectations and lifestyles then, sadly, Mid Kent Water cannot guarantee that there will not be similar incidents in the future despite the action plan we are publishing today. The 38% cut in our capital investment programme, being imposed by Ofwat as part of the draft price determination, therefore gives me considerable cause for concern on behalf of my customers.

“That having been said, this report by Ofwat has identified some key areas for improvement in the way we handle and avoid incidents of this nature. Mid Kent Water will respond constructively to those suggestions, which we believe to be in our customers’ best interests.”

“Ofwat will be monitoring the actions taken by Mid Kent Water so there’s not a repetition of the problems,” an Ofwat spokesman told edie. “We acknowledge that the distribution system in the area is difficult and requires skillful management, so now we’ll see how the company take these points on board.”

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