On 26 November, the water industry regulator, Ofwat, published its decisions on the price caps that will apply to all the 21 water companies covering 23 areas in England and Wales from 2010 to 2015. Despite calling for average cuts of £14 in draft proposals released back in July, Ofwat is now requiring an average cut of just £3. This still means that average water prices will be some 10 per cent lower than those sought by the water companies. Note that all these figures are in real terms: i.e. after taking inflation (or deflation) into account.
But while customers in some areas will see their bills frozen in real terms, or even significantly cut, others will see a rise in theirs. The average price change varies from a fall of 7 per cent in Wales, East Anglia and Portsmouth to a rise of 13 per cent in Essex and Suffolk. There is also variation within regions, depending on factors such as whether or not you have a water meter. Thus, in the South West, customers without a meter could see a rise in bills of 29 per cent.
Not surprisingly, Ofwat’s decisions have received mixed reactions. The water companies claim that the price cap is too high to allow them to make the necessary investment in water infrastructure, such as replacing old pipes to cut down on leakages. Water customers, on the other hand, claim that Ofwat has been ‘captured’ by the industry and, as a result, has been much too lenient.
So who is right? And is the current system of 23 separate regional monopolies, regulated through price cap regulation, the best way of structuring and running the water industry? The following articles and videos look at the issues
Ofwat delivers flat bills for customers Ofwat news release (26/11/09)
Ofwat Publishes Its Decisions Regarding The Prices To Be Charged By Water And Sewerage Companies eGov Monitor (26/11/09)
Water prices to remain flat Financial Times, William MacNamara (26/11/09)
Water bills in England and Wales to be cut (including video) BBC News (26/11/09)
Water price cuts ‘could stop leak programmes’ BBC Today Programme (26/11/09)
The Big Question: Should water bills be going down even further than they are? Independent, Martin Hickman (27/11/09)
Water boys the winners with Ofwat? Independent, James Moore (27/11/09)
Households face higher than expected water bills Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (26/11/09)
There’s trouble in the pipeline as Ofwat boss fails to spot the cracks Telegraph, Damian Reece (27/11/09)
Water bills set to drop by only £3 a year Guardian, Tim Webb (26/11/09)
Regulator must find better way to fix water prices Guardian, Nils Pratley (26/11/09)
Water regulator bows to lobbying on bill price cuts (including video) Times Online, Peter Stiff (26/11/09)
Ofwat ruling on water bills will hit millions of unmetered homes Times Online, Robin Pagnamenta (27/11/09)
Water company shares buoyant after Ofwat ruling Guardian, Market Forces blog, Nick Fletcher (26/11/09)
Severn Trent leads water company shares higher after regulator’s review Telegraph (26/11/09)
The full report can be accessed from the Ofwat site at:
Final determinations on price limits Ofwat (26/11/09)
- Is price cap regulation of the RPI–X variety the best form of regulation? Explain with reference to both incentives and the issue of uncertainty.
- Explain whether water companies are natural monopolies.
- To what extent can competition be introduced into privatised utility industries as an alternative to regulation? Is increased competition a practical alternative to price cap regulation in the water industry?
- What are the arguments for and against installing water meters in each home so that people pay per litre used rather than paying a flat charge depending on the property value?
- Explain what is meant by ‘regulatory capture’. Is there evidence of regulatory capture in the water industry? Consider with respect to the November 26 ruling.