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Ofwat blasts water firms' poor 'early start' record

WATER REGULATOR Ofwat has criticised water companies for failing to get enough construction work ready in time for the start of their 2005 to 2010 five year construction programmes.

'We were disappointed by the amount of work that the companies were able to specify, ' said Ofwat chief engineer Bill Emery.

He warned that he might even scrap the early start programme as a result.

'We had a very mixed response to the programme and in some cases it just fell off the back of the lorry, ' he said.

The early start programme was set up so water companies could begin new capital programmes as soon as Ofwat had finished its five yearly review of water prices.

The idea was to iron out peaks and troughs in water company spending, which tends to be skewed towards the end of each five year review period.

Ofwat had told water companies that it would approve schemes a year ahead of the price review covering the 2005/2010 spending programme.

Emery was speaking earlier this month after Ofwat published the final draft of its water price review for the five years from 2005.

'At the end of the day we will have to look carefully at what is in the plans and what could have been in there, and ask why it wasn't put in the early start programme. Or we could just abandon it altogether, ' he went on.

Water companies defended their performance. They said it was difficult to specify work programmes for the first year of a work period without being able to put it into the context of the review.

'Generally there is a sense that companies are being asked to sign up to very specific projects within very tight deadlines without knowing the full context of the review, ' said Severn Trent Water's director of technical services, Gren Messham.

'If Ofwat is prepared to talk to individual companies about the early start programme with the benefit of hindsight, then Severn Trent would find that very valuable, ' he said.

Messham explained that Severn Trent Water had received approval from Ofwat to begin work on £30M of projects within the early start programme, but that it had applied to do £150M of work.

'We felt that we had put in important early start schemes but Ofwat felt that these had not met their criteria.

'We would welcome more work to help improve our understanding, ' he said

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