Government opens the floodgates to water market competition

The UK’s water market is set for its biggest transformation since privatisation as it opens for competition between suppliers from this weekend.

From April more than 1.2 million businesses, charities and public sector bodies will be able to choose their supplier rather than rely on a supplier with a regional monopoly, in a first for customers in England and Wales.

The Government hopes that competition will lead to better customer service, lower costs and more innovation among suppliers as they vie for customers. Scotland already deregulated its water market for businesses in 2008.

Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary, said: “Opening the market is an historic milestone, paving the way for innovation and efficiency and giving customers the same choice over their water retailer as they currently have for their energy and other essential services.”

Billions of pounds’ worth of water contracts are set to be awarded to utilities in the coming weeks. The first major framework contract is expected to be awarded by Crown Commercial Services on behalf of the UK’s public sector and is understood to be worth between £800m to £900m.

A steady stream of contract awards from high street retailers Marks & Spencer, Next and Sainsbury’s will follow.

Cathryn Ross, chief executive of industry regulator Ofwat, said that major water users have long awaited the opening of competition in the hope they could secure better service at a better price.

“The cost-benefit analysis which underpinned the reforms suggested a net benefit for the country of £200m from opening the water market. So even based on a conservative estimate there is some real money here,” she said.

In addition many multi-site operators, such as national chains, will be able to choose one supplier to avoid paying extra administrative costs to manage separate billing from the various regional water suppliers across the country.

“There was tale after tale of frankly below par customer service and that was probably the biggest single driver for the reforms. There was this palpable need among business customers for better service and, frankly, more innovative thinking,” Ms Ross said.

Low awareness of the change among small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) has raised concerns that the benefits of competition may remain limited to the UK’s biggest companies.

“If you look, for example, at how competition progressed in Scottish market… you can see that SMEs have benefitted from competition. It did take longer but we are confidently expecting SMEs to become an attractive part of the market for some providers,” she said.

She added that Ofwat plans to “keep on the ball” by learning lessons from the energy market, which has been dogged by concerns that competition is not working in favour of the consumer.

“There are reasons not to expect the same issues that we see in energy occurring in water. That said, we must absolutely learn the lessons that we can,” she said.

Under Ofwat’s plans micro businesses will be granted a ‘cooling off’ period of seven calendar days after signing up to a new provider. The provider will be prohibited from rolling over contracts at the end of the contract. The regulator has also designed a voluntary code of conduct for service brokers.

Tony Smith, the head of the Consumer Council for Water, said: “We know there will be teething problems and not everything is going to be right first time. When problems arise, CCWater will be here to help customers get their complaints resolved quickly and support them with free, impartial advice and information.”

The Government is now looking at opening up the market for domestic customers – a move that Ofwat has calculated could save households up to £3bn in a best-case scenario.

However, Ms Ross said the regulator was not concerned about a “slower burn” within the SME sector.

Reduced speed limits along M1 to last until 2018

There will be reduced speed limits and lane closures on parts of the M1 in the East Midlands as work gets underway to create a smart motorway.

The £120m project, which starts today (March 30), will take place between Diseworth (junction 23a) and Risley (junction 25). The work is due for completion in winter 2018.

Highways England is behind the plans to provide an extra lane in each direction. They say it will improve journey times and make them more reliable.

It is part of a major government investment worth £15bn to build a ‘modern and resilient road network’.

Highways England project manager David Cooke said:

Drivers currently experience congestion and unreliable journey times at busy periods and traffic is predicted to increase, particularly with the growth expected at East Midlands Airport.

By upgrading this stretch of motorway, Highways England will reduce congestion and improve travel times and make journeys more reliable.

This work will also support the economy and boost economic growth within the region by improving traffic flow on the motorway reducing the cost of economic delay to commuters and business traffic.


The M1 carries more than 130,000 vehicles per day between Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

The scheme will also introduce new CCTV cameras and electronic information signs and signals on gantries.

Elsewhere, motorists are also being reminded that there will be a contraflow in place on the M1 between junction 24 for Kegworth to A453/ A42 Finger Farm Roundabout (near East Midlands Airport) while development work starts on the East Midlands Gateway scheme. 

5 Tips for Dealing Better with Workplace Diversity

Just because you get your own joke doesn’t mean your co-workers will.

Diversity is a good thing. Always has been. Always will be. But, still, it can be just as dangerous as it is good. While a diverse staff can be a great thing and bring amazing new perspectives to the table, it can also cause palpable tensions that destroy whatever benefits have already been brought to the table.

The reason is obvious: People are touchy about issues like race, religion and personal orientation; yet understanding “diversity” as comprising much more than these things can help you become a better manager and employer. Here are a few tips.

1. Redefine, and recognize the many types of diversity.

As already stated, diversity has many categories, and not all are readily noticeable. To notice them you have to peer a little deeper. One key reason many people feel comfortable in one workplace, but unfulfilled in another, may be because they are diverse in those subtle little ways.

That all your staff hail from the same state doesn’t mean they are not diverse. For instance, you have to take note of the obvious diversities like race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, but you also need to find out about the small guy who always slinks away from birthday celebrations; you need to notice the diversity of thought among your staff members.

The meaning of diversity has changed. Factors can be as simple as height. That unusually small guy? He may be plagued by a confidence complex and think he sees discrimination where it doesn’t exist. The office’s extremely tall guy, meanwhile, may feel the exact same way.

2. Redefine discrimination, and clamp down on all its forms.

Workplace jokes are often what make work fun, and the resulting camaraderie is what makes people look forward to coming to work the next day or to the next online meeting. Yet certain jokes and comments must be closely censored.

In a friend’s company, where most of the staff worked remotely and hailed from diverse nations; “Hello Jimmy, how is Africa?” addressed to a man named Jimmy who actually was in Africa degenerated to a racist slur when voiced repeatedly.

Discrimination is the most common result of diversity and the reason that same workplace diversity can be harmful at times. The Workforce Diversity Network has redefined discrimination to include actions both intentional and unintentional, conscious and subconscious — all of which should be recogized and acted on by the manager closest in contact with the offending staff.

3. Celebrate diversity in all ways possible.

Nikos Antoniades, the CEO of Easymarkets, was asked in an interview, shortly after he took that job, how he handled diversity.

“Our clients are based in over 160 countries around the world,” Antoniades replied. “I love the unique perspectives brought to the table and I particularly enjoy the many celebrations we have — including the Chinese Moon Festival, the Polish national day and our Brits this year [who] celebrated Pancake Day. Recently we celebrated Carnival, which kicked off with a barbeque at work and was followed by a week of dressing up in costumes. Most of the celebrations are around food — who can complain?”

Moving out of your comfort zone to other people’s once in a while is a surefire way of maintaining decorum in a diverse workplace.

4. Keep reaching out.

Keep trying to learn about your staff, especially the new hires. Talk to them personally, and find out where they are from.

Vincent Seglior, who was the World Trade Institute’s director of international training for 12 years, advises that managers place new hires who are from a different culture under longer-term staff who are from similar backgrounds but have become more integrated.

It’s necessary to maintain the company culture, but to do this you may have to hold an orientation session any time there are personnel changes in your department. Be a manager who develops open relationships with your diverse staff. Talk to them positively — both in a group and individually.

According to Seglior, if you remain curious, receptive and open to learning about people’s different cultures, your staff will benefit, and so will you.

5. Don’t assume people understand your jokes.

A former manager I know of made a joke in a staff meeting about people who didn’t go through college. I understood that he was trying to be funny, and it really would have been funny had there not been a fair number of people among the staff who hadn’t gone through college. I saw their faces turn red, literally, and the manager didn’t even notice.

Not everyone has your experience or privileges. You need to know your staff well, and be sensitive to their differences. Don’t assume they ought to get your joke, because the next time you pass them over for a promotion, they may think it’s because of their difference.

That being said, a diverse workforce creates differences and some challenges, but if handled well it can explode with benefits.

NASA: sea ice extent sinks to record lows at both poles

Arctic sea ice appears to have reached a record low wintertime maximum extent on March 7, according to scientists at NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado.

And on the opposite side of the planet, on March 3 sea ice around Antarctica hit its lowest extent ever recorded by satellites at the end of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, a surprising turn of events after decades of moderate sea ice expansion.

On Feb. 13, the combined Arctic and Antarctic sea ice numbers were at their lowest point since satellites began to continuously measure sea ice in 1979. Total polar sea ice covered 6.26 million square miles (16.21 million square kilometers), which is 790,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers) less than the average global minimum extent for 1981-2010 – the equivalent of having lost a chunk of sea ice larger than Mexico.

ARCTIC ANTARCTIC seaice trends chart 1

On March 7, 2017, Arctic sea ice hit a record low wintertime maximum extent in 2017. At 5.57 million square miles, it is the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record, and 455,600 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average maximum extent.

On March 3, 2017, the sea ice cover around the Antarctic continent shrunk to its lowest yearly minimum extent in the satellite record, in a dramatic shift after decades of moderate sea ice expansion.

“We started from a low September minimum extent,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “There was a lot of open ocean water and we saw periods of very slow ice growth in late October and into November, because the water had a lot of accumulated heat that had to be dissipated before ice could grow. The ice formation got a late start and everything lagged behind – it was hard for the sea ice cover to catch up.”

The Arctic’s sea ice maximum extent has dropped by an average of 2.8 percent per decade since 1979. The summertime minimum extent losses are nearly five times larger: 13.5 percent per decade. Besides shrinking in extent, the sea ice cap is also thinning and becoming more vulnerable to the action of ocean waters, winds and warmer temperatures.

In Antarctica, this year’s record low annual sea ice minimum of 815,000 square miles (2.11 million square kilometers) was 71,000 square miles (184,000 square kilometers) below the previous lowest minimum extent in the satellite record, which occurred in 1997.

Antarctic sea ice saw an early maximum extent in 2016, followed by a very rapid loss of ice starting in early September. Since November, daily Antarctic sea ice extent has continuously been at its lowest levels in the satellite record. The ice loss slowed down in February.

This year’s record low happened just two years after several monthly record high sea ice extents in Antarctica and decades of moderate sea ice growth.

The ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas shrinks in a seasonal cycle from mid-March until mid-September. As the Arctic temperatures drop in the autumn and winter, the ice cover grows again until it reaches its yearly maximum extent, typically in March. The ring of sea ice around the Antarctic continent behaves in a similar manner, with the calendar flipped: it usually reaches its maximum in September and its minimum in February.

This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavourable to ice expansion, and a series of storms halted sea ice growth in the Arctic. This year’s maximum extent, reached on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers), is 37,000 square miles (97,00 square kilometers) below the previous record low, which occurred in 2015, and 471,000 square miles (1.22 million square kilometers) smaller than the average maximum extent for 1981-2010.

Three months progress of the A14 Cambridge to Huntington upgrade

Three months in to main construction on the A14’s £1.5bn upgrade in Cambridgeshire, Highways England’s project manager is giving a sneak peek into progress made so far – including technical innovations and archaeological finds.

Much has been achieved since main construction on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme, Highways England’s biggest scheme currently in construction, started at the end of November last year.

Chris Griffin, A14 project manager at Highways England, talks through progress so far:

“As yellow diggers have become a familiar sight along the A14 corridor in Cambridgeshire, drivers will have noticed the changes along the existing A14. But there is plenty happening that they might not have noticed.”

Traffic management

“The narrow lanes, temporary speed limits, cones and barriers we’ve installed allow workers to build accesses for construction traffic and carry out vegetation clearance ahead of the bird nesting season while keeping disruption on the road to a minimum and keeping road users safe”, Chris explains.

All the trees that have been cut are being used as biomass for energy production locally and more trees will be replanted when the project nears completion.

“We are committed to keeping the main roads at full capacity during the day”, Chris continues, “so we only use overnight lane or carriageway closures if it is absolutely necessary, like for instance if we need to install signs or barriers, carry out pavement surveys or strengthen the carriageway where heavy machinery will need to cross on a regular basis.”

“We’ve also installed CCTV cameras along the A14 so we can actively manage disruption to road users from a dedicated control room within the scheme’s main compound. This helps us to stay aware at all times of conditions on the road and to take measures quickly if things don’t go to plan.”

But the most interesting activities to date are probably the ones that can’t be seen from the road.

Construction of the River Great Ouse Viaduct

Chris explains: “A significant part of the scheme is a new bypass, including a viaduct over the River Great Ouse, which will run south of Huntingdon. This bypass is a brand new road so is being built away from the existing A14, with no disruption to road users other than when plant occasionally cross local roads while travelling along the new construction haul roads.

“Work on this section of the project is progressing well and to schedule. Building the 750-metre long River Great Ouse viaduct, which will carry the new A14 across the flood plain and river, is a complex task. The first step has been to install a pontoon which has a 52 tonne capacity, allowing fully laden dump trucks and plant access across the river. This pontoon is allowing us to install a temporary bridge so we can start building the viaduct itself.”

Construction of the foundations and columns for the viaduct is also under way, with plans for later this year to start installing the steelwork that supports the bridge deck and start casting the 800 concrete panels needed for the viaduct.

“We have also been building foundations for several of the new bridges”, he adds.  “People may have noticed our construction teams installing giant steel cages along the A1 recently. Once these are in place, concrete will be poured around them to form the bridge foundations and we’ll be able to start building the bridges themselves.”


The Archaeological team has also made great progress since starting excavations last autumn following extensive surveys and trial trenching. The team identified important archaeological remains dating from the prehistoric period through to the Romano-British and medieval periods.

“The trial trenching identified some 350 hectares of land that our archaeologists would need to look at”, says Chris. “Most of the remains show evidence of settlements or industrial activity, including a well-preserved series of Romano-British pottery kilns, some carving tools and even the remains of a cow.”

Excavations will be taking place across the scheme throughout 2017 and the team is planning on presenting findings to the local community once the archaeological work is finished.

“I am pleased with progress so far on the scheme”, says Chris. “We have a challenging timetable to deliver the scheme and open the new A14 to traffic by the end of 2020, so it is good to see the speed at which work is progressing as well as the innovative solutions we are using to tackle challenges.”

Mouchel water team sees strong growth at start of 2017

The water consulting business at Mouchel has seen strong growth to start 2017 with a reappointment to a key AMP6 project for Essex & Suffolk Water – the consultancy has also strengthened the team with the appointment of five new staff.

Mouchel, which will rebrand as WSP in July following last year’s acquisition by WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, has been reappointed by Essex & Suffolk Water (ESW) for its domestic retrofit program across their residential customer base.

Mouchel has been partnering with ESW and their water efficiency program for the past 11 years to deliver approximately 10% of ESW’s water saving target set out in the Water Resource Management Plan (WRMP).

Now entering its 13th phase, each involving liaison with approximately 15,000 customers within a designated catchment area, the programme aims to deliver home “audits” with a view to saving residents as much water as possible.

This is carried out by a team of professional plumbers, who assess the existing water fitments in a home (showers, toilets, baths, taps, outdoor water supply etc.) to ensure residents are benefitting from the most up to date water saving devices available.

Phase 13 of the project is due to begin in April 2017, which has recently been rebranded as “Every Drop Counts”.

Hamish Chalmers, Mouchel technical delivery manager, said:

“We’re very proud to have been selected once again to carry on delivering this valuable service for the customers of Essex & Suffolk Water in what is the driest region of the country. With each phase we see new levels of innovative working achieved and we will continue to work hard with Essex& Suffolk Water and their residents to ensure every drop counts. We look forward to carrying on our highly successful partnership deeper into the AMP6 program.”

Five new appointments to further strengthen water team

Tim Knobbs has also joined Mouchel as technical director for design and capital delivery, one of five new appointments to the water team. He arrives from Atkins having spent the last two years as the engineering manager for the 230-strong CABV (Costain Atkins Black & Veatch) JV design team working as part of Thames Waters £1.7bn AMP6 eight₂O Alliance.

A chartered engineer, fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), and member of the Chartered Institute of Water & Environmental Management (CIWEM), Tim Knobbs will develop and lead the water consultancy’s technical community and will be charged with raising the consultancy’s profile for technical excellence, both with water-industry clients and the wider industry.

Mark Carlisle, Head of Water at Mouchel, added:

“With our work across the UK from Whitesands, Scotland to North Wales to Essex, it’s been a productive start to the year for our growing water consultancy. In 2017 we’ll continue to work to grow our business whilst focusing on client delivery, technical expertise, and making the most of the fantastic opportunities the WSP integration is providing.”

Drivers told to avoid M5 during 18-month roadworks

Drivers have been urged not to use the M5 unless they have to during a major 18-month roadworks scheme.

Motorists are facing a traffic nightmare from Easter when the speed limit between junctions one for West Bromwich and two for Oldbury is slashed to 30mph.

Those who regularly use the motorway are facing chaos until the end of 2018.

Highways England has insisted the work to replace waterproofing on the crumbling Oldbury viaduct is essential and cannot be put off any longer.

Bosses also stressed the job could not have been done overnight and that the 30mph speed limit, which is likely to leave thousands of vehicles crawling along the two-mile stretch, was necessary if slip roads were to be kept open.

Council bosses in Sandwell have raised concerns about the impact the roadworks scheme will have on businesses and surrounding roads.

Matthew Taylor, Highways England asset manager for Birmingham, said drivers were should avoid the motorway wherever possible.

He told the Express & Star: “This is going to have a major impact and we wouldn’t be doing the scheme unless we absolutely had to.

“The waterproofing has come to the end of its life and has been down for 30 years.

“We are asking people who usually use the M5 to look at using alternative routes or public transport.”

The 30mph speed limit has led to concerns of traffic moving at a snail’s pace, but Mr Taylor said the move was necessary. 

Highways England: 5 motorway projects in the pipeline

With the appointment of Osborne and Jackson Civil Engineering to carry out £240m of maintenance work on the M25, the road ahead for the UK’s highways sector is one step clearer.

Highways England has outlined a healthy £15bn in spending for it’s current programme, which runs to 2021.

The key to many of the upcoming works is Highways England’s smart motorways programme.

In 2015 the body appointed six JVs to a panel able to bid for individual work lots.

Teams included Balfour Beatty / Vinci; Costain / Galliford Try; and Carillion / Kier; with designers being CH2M / Hyder; Amey / Arup, and Jacobs / Atkins.

The total value of the smart motorways work is £1.55bn.

In anticipation of future project awards CN looks at five schemes in the pipeline.

M42 – Junction 6 upgrade: £282m

The M42 will see a comprehensive upgrade at junction 6 near Birmingham Airport to allow the better movement of traffic on and off the A45.

The upgrade will also see works to pave the way for the new HS2 interchange station and provide better access to the Jaguar Land Rover comlex and the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

Highways England put the plans out for public consultation last December, with the preferred route announcement expected this spring.

Construction on the junction upgrade is expected to start in March 2020 and will be open for traffic in 2023.

The works form part of the government’s £1.8bn programme of upgrades in the Midlands.

M6 smart motorway J13 and J15: £232m-£335m

The M6 smart motorway project will see major works between junction 13 at Stafford and Junction 15 at Stoke South commence next March.

The works, which form part of the ‘smart spine’ of the motorway network will upgrade 28 km of road, 2 km of new noise barriers, widening of the Creswell Viaduct, new CCTV cameras and upgrades to the Dunston and Norton railway bridges.

All-lane road construction works are expected to start in early 2018.

M25 upgrade J10 to J16: £335m-£479m

With the highest traffic flow anywhere on the motorway network, the upgrades between junction 10 and junction 16 of the M25 will be sorely needed when work starts, expected in March 2020.

With a price tag in the region of £335m to £479m, the upgrade will see all-lane running at J15 to J16 between the M4 and M40 interchanges.

The plans include hard shoulder running between those two junctions, as well as a four-lane through-junction between junctions 10 and 12. There is a separate scheme to upgrade Junction 10.

M54 and M6 junctions 10A and 11 upgrades: £250m-£300m

Scoping work for proposals to add a north-facing access road between the M54 and the M6 and M6 Toll around junctions 10A and 11 of the M6 is in its early stages.

Highways England is weighing up three options at present and will publish a public consultation on the new route.

The project will include new slip roads to be constructed at the M6 junction 10a for Wolverhampton and Telford, which will provide links to and from the M6 to the A460, and would potentially cross the M6 on a new bridge.

M27 smart motorway upgrade: £200m-£250m

The work involves upgrading the M27 to a smart motorway between junction 4 (M3 interchange) and junction 11 (Fareham), linking with the smart motorway scheme on the M3.

The upgrade, which is expected to get under way next year, will provide 48 km of extra capacity on the south-coast road.

Yorkshire Water relocates flood pumps to facilitate faster response by councils

Two large storm pumps have been relocated by Yorkshire Water so agencies can respond quicker to protect homes and businesses from the risk of flooding.

The water company has teamed up with Ryedale District Council and Harrogate Borough Council so that future multi-agency flood responses are quicker in Malton, Norton and Old Malton and Boroughbridge.

Special licences are needed to transport the pumps because of their size and their previous location, in Yorkshire Water’s  logistic centre in Leeds, meant they were not being used to their optimum capacity. The time taken to transport them from Leeds to North Yorkshire also reduced their effectiveness.

At the end of February one pump was transported to a Yorkshire Water site in Ripon. Harrogate Borough Council will use the pump during future flood warnings or incidents in Boroughbridge to protect properties from flooding.

The other pump was taken to the Ryedale District Council depot for use specifically as part of the Malton, Norton and Old Malton Multi-Agency Pump Plan.

Eve Pierrepont who works in the Flood Risk & Engagement Team and Michelle Lovewell from the Emergency Planning Team at Yorkshire Water worked with colleagues at both Local Authorities to arrange the deliveries.

Eve Pierrepont commented:

“By working together we are making efficiencies, as we supply the pumps and our colleagues at the local authorities supply the resources to deploy them. The communities of Malton, Norton, Old Malton and Boroughbridge will hopefully benefit as we are able to respond to any future flood incidents more efficiently.”

Works start on the A38 to improve safety

Work is starting on a £250,000 scheme to improve safety along a stretch of the A38 near Exeter.

Highways England is installing average speed checks along the stretch at Splatford Split where the road merges with the A380.

The road saw an average of one accident a month between 2009 and 2014.

The move has been supported by Devon and Cornwall Police and Devon County Council. There will be two weeks of overnight closures.