WATER COMPANIES are increasingly bringing outsourced design work back in house, in a drive to cut costs and gain more control over contracts.
Thames Water, United Utilities and Wessex Water said this week that they were bringing more work in house. Others are expected to follow.
Wessex Water has also decided to carry out some contracting work in house, through its new subsidiary Wessex Utilities Contracting.
The move marks a reversal of the trend towards outsourcing which began in 2000.
It parallels moves by Network Rail to bring maintenance work back in house so that it can exercise more control over spending and safety.
Outsourcing work to partnerships formed with consultants and contractors was successful in terms of reducing claims from contractors. But water company technical staff numbers dwindled as a result, making it difficult for them to monitor work.
'The partnering and alliancing pendulum has swung too far and from the client's perspective we now have less control, ' said Thames Water engineering director Mike Tempest.
'We want to strengthen our design capabilities at the front end, ' he said.
United Utilities has recently recruited 40 new technical staff to take on its increasing workload.
'Our view is that taking in more engineers will lead to more effective management and improve our forward strategy, ' said a spokeswoman.
Not all water companies are expected to increase in-house work.
Severn Trent, Yorkshire and Northumbrian Water said they had struck a satisfactory balance between in-house and outsourced design work.
Consultants MWH and Mott MacDonald said they did not expect the change to affect their workload adversely.
'They are looking to become more expert and ultimately it is better for us to work for expert clients, ' said Mott MacDonald business development manager Jimmy Carter.