Open letter from our Chairman

Created on: 02/03/2010

AN OPEN LETTER FROM OUR CHAIRMAN

We have had many enquiries regarding the intended transfer of private drains and sewers in 2011, so I thought it appropriate to share our concerns and explain our position.

We at the National Sewerage Association share the small contractors concerns on what will be one of the major changes in how sewerage services will be procured for eight decades. It is fair to say that this change will be comparable to the last time a Government attempted to transfer private sewers into public ownership back in the 1930's. Then, of course, it was health issues that drove the change but now it is more to do with the pressure from the electorate living on estates with problematic sewers.

The issue of transfer has been an on-off issue with governments of all persuasions over the years but was finally sign posted through the 2003 Water Act which incorporated the legislation for transfer. Since then there have been many seminars and editorials in the drainage magazines on what and when this may occur and consequently what it will mean for customers, water companies and contractors.

I am sorry if you have not seen or read these editorials because they have shaped some of the views and possible ways that transfer will be implemented.

In 2007 the Minister responsible for DEFRA finally signalled that Regulations (the final requirement for transfer) would be put before Parliament. The members of the Association debated whether they wanted to respond negatively towards the public consultations on the transfer process introduced in 2008 or positively. They decided that a positive response would be most appropriate for members and aim to influence the transfer procedures. The members felt it was important to try and influence the procurement process as it appeared to be heavily weighted towards the major civil engineering industry.

DEFRA have through its consultants carried out information gathering and telephone consultation with drainage contractors in the "Yellow Pages" but I am not able to advise how many or to what effect this has challenged or changed the governments view on contractors views on the transfer.

The NSA feels that, there needs to be an equal playing field for all drainage contractors, when such a major change as drainage transfer takes place, The major hurdle is one of showing the water industry that small drainage contractors and the people working for those drainage contractors have the necessary skills to carry out drainage related work and are sufficiently trained in the necessary health and safety issues of that work. For this reason the Association joined with training organisations, contractors and the water industry to see if there was a way to combine all the various types of training into a single authorisation document which would then be recognised by all as the definitive card advising any client that its contractor and, more importantly, its staff are fully trained in the activities they are asked to carry out.

This work by EU skills was not to create a new health and safety course but to try and show that training carried out by one contractor or training organisation was compatible with training carried out by any other organisation. You no doubt are aware that different water companies currently require its contractors to be trained in heath and safety matters by its own staff not recognising training by other organisations. Similarly, various other employing bodies in the market place have their favoured certification.

The transfer, when it occurs will not reduce the work required on the drainage system but will, in my opinion increase it dramatically when the customer pressures the Water Companies to maintain/ repair/ replace their problematic sewers. I cannot see Water Companies letting individual works orders for drainage maintenance, they are more likely to follow the current model of a single or area based contract to carry out services.

Those major contractors who currently have this public work will not have people or equipment to carry out the work at the time of transfer, which is currently a major industry working in the private sewer market. Therefore we need to look at ways of providing services to those contractors or consultants. This may result in drainage contractors combining into a loose consortium to offer a 24 hour service and I believe this is where energies need to be directed.

It is the right of all of us to give our views either through the ballot box or by representation and, on the transfer, I feel that it is important that any person or organisation affected by these changes is both informed and has the opportunity to express their views. I personally believe that the transfer of all sewers to a single body is probably the correct one; it undoubtedly will increase our individual sewerage bill but can be good for the customer as well as the drainage industry.

We need to demonstrate to the Water Companies that individual contractors have the skills, training and equipment to carry out the maintenance tasks. We also need to ensure that Water Companies do not abuse their obvious dominance in the procurement market to demand unnecessary hurdles in their procurement systems, and that the remaining private drain clearing/ maintenance which will still be significant is not suffocated by the water industry looking to procure that work as well.

I hope that this letter assists in some way towards answering any queries you may have as well as expressing the Association’s members view on this major change. The legislation for transfer is a done deal (passed in 2003) and therefore I believe our energies need to be directed to ensure that individual companies and people working in the industry have equal opportunities when transfer takes place.

If you wish to further communicate on this matter feel free to contact the Association.

Phil Reaney                                                                                                              March 2010