I regard the proposed new Customer Forum as having a vital role in communicating customers’ views during the price setting process. As such, I am committed to making sure that it has all the information it needs to play its role effectively. This role is to ensure that customers get the very best value for money within the broad policy framework set by Scottish Ministers.
I hope the forum will work with Scottish Water to define a programme of research – both quantitative and qualitative – to establish customers’ priorities for service level improvements and their expectations in terms of the level of charges.
In my view, Scottish Water and the forum should work to establish the gap between the desired level of service and that which was being provided. This would set a broad route map for the improvements required.
It may also be useful to make additional resources available so that the forum can, if necessary, test some of the conclusions being drawn from the research programme. I think it is likely to be more effective to do such testing jointly with Scottish Water, if at all possible. But it will be for the forum’s Board to decide how best to proceed.
The timetable for the 2010-15 price review allows for joint working between the regulator and Scottish Water on important inputs to the process, and for joint customer research between the Customer Forum and Scottish Water. This research should feed directly into Scottish Water’s long-term strategic plan and its business plan for the regulatory control period.
I do not want to see the long and overly detailed business plans that have characterised previous price reviews. Nor do I want to repeat the long and rather turgid sort of conclusions that I reached in June 2005. I want to see a business plan that is understandable on two levels:
• baseline levels of service and statutory investment requirements,
• discretionary customer service improvements.
This would facilitate Scottish Water, WICS and the Customer Forum participating in tri-partite meetings covering the cost of delivering the baseline levels of service. There should be further meetings on the delivery of the statutory investment requirements, which would involve the DWQR and SEPA. These meetings would not seek to question the required outcome – a process which can be done by individual organisations making direct representations to Ministers – but could consider, for example, alternative solutions, the efficiency of investment proposals and, in certain circumstances, the timing of delivery.
The purpose of these meetings is to discuss and expose the position that WICS could be minded to adopt in its draft determination. We would prepare a series of discussion papers to encourage this engagement. There would obviously be an opportunity for all parties to respond to these papers in advance of publication. Perhaps a radical thought, but it could be a step forward if discussions between Scottish Water and the Customer Forum lead to them proposing a different, though mutually satisfactory, outcome.