I know there continues to be a great deal of frustration caused by the repeated repair works carried out by Thames Water in our area. I really do understand the considerable disruption this causes, not least because my own road has been routinely hit by leaks and subsequently brought to gridlock by shoddy repair work, including for consecutive weeks this summer.
I posted the following update on my website last year explaining the cause of much of this disruption and the steps being taken to improve the situation, since when I have continued to press both the Government and Thames Water on this, including in a number of meetings, written correspondence, as well as in debates and questions in the House of Commons.
Thames Water’s current performance simply isn’t good enough. In the Chislehurst ward alone, there have been more than 700 reported leaks over the last five years, but it’s a problem replicated across the constituency. It generates major disruption on our roads and, at times, has left people without water for days on end.
I met yesterday with Martin Padley, Thames Water’s Director of Water, and went through my concerns, as well as those raised with me by residents, in turn and in detail. While it will come as little consolation to customers, Thames Water have, to their credit, been very open and upfront that they need to improve. Their external shareholders have not taken any dividends since 2017 to help facilitate the reinvestment of significant funds, and changes are being made across the company to improve service and mitigate problems.
The repairing of leaks is a case in point. Thames Water now have more contract teams than ever before, and since my last meeting with them, have brought inhouse a large proportion of their repair work so that standards can be better monitored and, where problems remain, more swiftly rectified. A particular frustration that I share with residents is that a considerable number of leaks frequently reoccur in the exact same places, and it is believed that taking this step, whereby Thames Water directly oversee more of the work themselves, will help drive standards and improve collaboration among their teams, creating a more joined up approach between those working in operations and their colleagues in communications. This is, of course, something I will be monitoring closely. The Council will also continue to exercise their right to fine Thames Water when work overruns.
Although we certainly need to bring the number of leaks right down, I think the vast majority of us understand that maintenance work is inevitable and that it will take time to deliver the improvements required. In the immediate term, I am therefore especially keen that Thames Water improve their comms and the updates they provide residents. These should be in real time, with those impacted kept informed of the work being undertaken and any delays – some of which are unavoidable, for example when there are supply chain issues – clearly communicated. That would at least give residents some peace of mind that work is underway rather than, as is all too often the case, being left in the dark.
To help with this, I have asked Thames Water to initiate deeper and more regular engagement with councillors, council officers, our excellent residents’ associations and business groups, giving them a platform to provide feedback and escalate their own concerns. I have already suggested a list of local organisations to help Thames Water get started with this, but if you have any thoughts on who should be included, please do let me know.
In the meantime, I will continue to press Thames Water to improve services, as well as lobbying ministers and the regulator, Ofwat, on the broader changes I think are needed across the industry, including a review of performance targets and funding.