If you’ve watched Bradley Wiggins slog it out on the Tour De France, you’ll have an appreciation for the powerful influence of competition. No-one takes on a challenge like that without serious training, and turning up to compete without getting yourself fit to face other challengers isn’t worth the trip to the starting line.
Wiggins’ grip on the yellow jersey has been all the more impressive for the hostility of the conditions under which he’s competing. Not only is it the world’s toughest test of cycling stamina, but it’s played out under the ferocious rays of a baking hot French summer, the expectant gaze of the sporting media, and one clown who thought it’d be a laugh to throw carpet tacks onto the road.
But true competition is like that – full of twists and turns, unexpected setbacks, moments of triumph – and it’s how you respond that counts.
Last week, the Government launched a draft Water Bill, which outlines how it will implement a competitive water market in England, following its white paper on the subject, Water For Life, published last December.
That will open the doors for customers in England to choose their water supplier, in the same way customers in Scotland have been able since 2008. The Government has lauded the way Scotland’s competitive market has delivered for customers, and has said England should learn lessons from the experience north of the border.
Not only does that make us feel terribly chuffed for our part in the Scottish market, but it also underlines the need for customers to be put at the centre of the whole process.
We’re dedicated to our customers in Scotland and they remain our absolute priority, but we think our experience of competition has made us leaner, fitter and ready to compete in the English market when the time is right.
Before that can happen, the market has to be fit, too. Here are our five steps for making sure a competitive English market delivers for customers:
Get a good coach: Strong leadership is critical. Confidence and certainty are key and a clear roadmap, including milestones and timescales, is needed so customers know what to expect.
Ensure fair play: The market has to be fair and transparent. The Water Bill doesn’t ask for the legal separation of wholesalers (ie the big regional water companies) and retailers, so regulators need to give protection to new entrants. This must include a strong compliance regime which moderates incumbent behaviour where necessary. New entrants need to know which customers are in the market. Monopolies should be immediately required to publish data on eligible customers.
Don’t move customers’ goalposts: Customers at the very least shouldn’t be any worse off under competition, so prices need to be benchmarked based on pre-competition charging. Default service levels need to be consistent and standardised across the market so customers know what to expect.
Take lessons from wins and losses: The Scottish retail model has worked well and an Anglo-Scottish market can learn lessons from that (good and bad). The most fundamental lesson must be that the market needs a robust foundation created through common operational standards and a market code. The monitoring and assurance of data is crucial from market opening. While the market delivery must be led by the regulator, its operation should be led by participants via channels such as industry panels.
Don’t trip over your feet: The market needs a simple ‘retail’ definition which is intuitive for customers, allows retailers to add value and allows wholesalers to manage their assets.
Wiggins is closing in on a place in Tour history as being the first Brit ever to win the race. He didn’t get there by accident. By focusing on getting into the best shape of his life, with the support of a great team around him, he has retained a lead over the competition. In the Tour de France, that leads to sporting greatness; in the English water market, the customers can be the winners.
What are your hopes for water competition in England? Tell us what you think by using the comment boxes below.