Clean water is, without a doubt, the backbone of a functional civilisation. We can do without heating or electricity for a number of days, but if the water stopped for 24 hours, then anarchy would break out across the country. As such, the ten regional water companies in the UK, Yorkshire Water have a huge responsibility to ensure that not only does the water keep flowing, but it remains clean, fresh and drinkable for the millions of people who rely on it.
Founded as a result of the Water Act of 1973, created by Ted Heath’s Conservative government of the day, Yorkshire Water is one of the ten local water authorities in England and Wales, but its real origins are found in the Yorkshire Water Authority, a large water company of the time which was folded into Yorkshire Water. The idea was to simplify the systems by which the nationalised water companies supplied, bringing many different operations under the same umbrella in order to save money. For 16 years, Yorkshire Water operated in this manner, with public ownership at its heart, until the Water Act of 1989 privatised the water companies in a bid to increase investment in the systems. It was part of a wider movement during Margaret Thatcher’s time in office to privatise companies in the public sphere in order to raise money and increase competition.
So, with Yorkshire Water plc now floated on the London Stock Exchange, it was a fully-fledged company, now owned by the Kelda Group (circa 1999). It wouldn’t be until a £3.04 billion deal was tabled by Saltire Water, a consortium of investment companies including HSBC and Cititgroup, that Yorkshire Water would be sold. It was subsequently made private.
Yorkshire Water have had an interesting recent history. As the most hated Water Company during the “year of the drought” in 1995, many suspected Yorkshire Water would never be able to win back customers trust. Thanks though to a series of managerial changes and policy shifts, Yorkshire Water quickly turned things around, and won “Utility Company of the Year” from Utility Week Magazine for three years in a row, a record unmatched by any other water or energy company. The company have also either met or exceeded every leakage target set for the company by the Water Services Regulation Authority.
It’s not all been smooth sailing for the Yorkshire company though, as it’s been fined a number of times, perhaps most notably in 2007. During that year it face two fines, the first of which was for allowing polluted matter to enter Clifton Beck in Brighouse. Ultimately, the incident had killed off one third of the wildlife along over a mile of the stream and did serious environmental damage. However, their largest fine was in 2000, when the company pleaded guilty to seven counts of providing water that was unfit for human consumption. They were fined a total of £119,000, along with costs of £125,598. On appeal though, Yorkshire Water had the fine reduced to just £80,000.
Today, Yorkshire Water supply water to 2.3 million households and 130,000 businesses, with a 99.93% drinking water quality standard. Even better, Yorkshire Water have been working hard to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, and in 2012/13, the company cut their emissions to 386 kilotonnes, down from 194 in the previous year. When it comes to customer service though, the company are firmly middle of the pack. During Ofwat’s customer satisfaction survey in 2013, Yorkshire Water ranked 11th of the 21 water companies that were surveyed, highlighting areas where Yorkshire Water still have some work to do.