The Times today has an interesting article on the power battle between the water industry regulator OFWAT and the regional monopoly providers such as Thames Water. It appears that a much tougher pricing regime is planned for the utilities leading to cuts in the real price of water supplies for consumers.

“Every five years, Ofwat sets limits on prices that water companies in England and Wales can charge. For 2010-15, it has proposed that, before taking inflation into account, bills should be reduced for many customers, bringing the average annual water and sewerage bill down by 4 per cent from £344 to £330 by 2015. The water companies had wanted a £28 rise to fund their business plans.”

OFWAT wants the utilities to invest more in in improving drinking water quality, cutting leakage levels and raise the number of metered households from 36 per cent to 50 per cent (in a bid to control water usage). But will imposing real price cuts help achieve this objective? The aim is to have a pricing regime that forces the utilities to raise productivity and cut out as many inefficiencies as possible.

Water is a good example of where a strong regulator is needed because of the absence of competition - after all consumers can’t switch supplier if they are given a poor service.

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