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Water maintenance backlog will push up costs

WATER COMPANIES will pay higher rates for maintenance work because they have fallen behind on their current five year work programme, water and wastewater body British Water said this week.

Firms have yet to start on much of the key maintenance work that the Office of the Water Regulator (Ofwat) requires to be done between 2000-05, said British Water UK director Paul Mullord.

As a result, Mullord warned, there will be a sudden increase in demand for skilled maintenance workers, forcing water companies to pay a premium for labour.

'They've underspent by about £1.5bn - that's almost 10% of the programme, ' he said. Combined sewer outfall improvements to meet European environmental directives are behind schedule, he added.

Mullord said the skills shortage has been exacerbated because a lull in maintenance work has led to many engineers moving into the petrochemical industries where their skills are also in high demand.

The water companies had failed to plan properly in their preoccupation with setting up new procurement regimes to boost long term efficiency, he claimed.

Ofwat director general Philip Fletcher said he was concerned about the underspend.

'I will be asking water companies to report on the progress of their investment schemes, and will be seeking assurances that each will be completed on time, ' he said.

INFOPLUS www. britishwater.co.uk

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