Communication is a MUST


                                TRANSFER OF PRIVATE DRAINS & SEWERS
The transfer of private drains and sewers is now set for 1st October 2011 and the challenges to all sides of the industry remain immense in what will be the biggest shake up the industry has seen. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be undertaken by Government in finalising regulations and procedures and the clock is ticking.
It will not only launch the Water Companies into relatively unknown territory; the nature of the work, volume and need for prompt action will prove a test for Tier One Contractors. We would look to all supervising officers acquiring an understanding of the processes involved (there are existing training courses) in order to avoid conflict between parties. 
The challenge is in providing an informed call centre, knowledge of the area and sufficient operational vehicles and manpower to provide a rapid response service. Ideally this would involve the myriad of small proven local contractors utilising their local experience. To have a matrix of local contractors instead of a cascading downward series of sub-contractors would give control on standards and service. The use of computers to allocate and log work would make a payment structure viable – it has been done before.
All sides of the industry need to be proactive and urgently participate in discussion with an open mind and to come up with innovative solutions to ensure that small companies with well trained staff can have a future and not be lost to the industry. Their experience is going to be vital to a smooth and invisible transfer.    
It will be in the industry’s best interest if rates are set a realistic level to maintain a cost efficient standard of work with well maintained equipment. There is still a warning in the old adage that `if you pay peanuts you get monkeys’. This industry has striven to set standards in safety and quality of work – let us not renege on the precedent set.
The lowest price can only be cost effective if all the criteria are met as laid down in the various, long established, model contract documents. Where work has to be repeated due to the contractor taking short cuts or not having the necessary experience in a process could result in the lowest tender, on evaluation, proving more expensive than other tenderers with a proven track record.   For peace of mind, all the appropriate training should have been undertaken by staff currently working for the contractor before any tender is considered.
At the recent meeting of the Private Sewer Forum, chaired by SBWWI, it became even more obvious that communication is the key to a successful outcome. Those of us involved in the contracting side of the industry have been concerned about member companies working in the sector and how they can best `sell’ their services and skills to those who will be supervising the work in the future.
It would be to the benefit of the Tier One contractors if they were seen to be proactive in setting up meetings, much as some water companies have, with interested providers to discuss the problems experienced in the private sector and how working in partnership might be of benefit.
UK Drainage Protocol, who joined the meeting as guests, highlighted the lack of communication between Local Authorities and Water Companies following an online survey. They are unsure what their role will be post transfer and in the case of environmental threat, where they still have responsibility for resolution, clarity of process is required as Section 59 notices for enforcement of repairs and recharging provisions will be repealed.
The message of change still has to reach many of the small contractors working in the private drainage sector throughout the country. Trade magazines, Government initiatives, trade associations etc have been trying to get the message out for several years with limited success. The general public needs to be made aware of the change, where applicable, and what procedures will be in place.
It can be seen how important communication is and will be in making the transfer of private drains and sewers a success. The tardiness in finalising the regulations and protocols for the transfer continues to hinder, in part, the communication process. Clarity of communication is required between the water companies and their support partners in local government and the operational processes and discussions need to take place now.