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Business & Economy

Opportunities in the pipeline

The water industry is set for huge change over the next few years, including a big increase in infrastructure spending. Here, Monisha Gower, Northumbrian Water’s assets director, explains what it means for the North East, both for customers and businesses in the company’s supply chain.


We don’t often think about how water gets to our taps, and we certainly don’t think about how it’s going to get there a few decades from now.

But, for Monisha Gower, Northumbrian Water’s assets director, it’s a full-time job.

“Investment in the water industry works in five-year periods,” says Monisha.

“And we’re right in the middle of one.

“But I’m already thinking about how we can reach the end of the next one, having delivered everything we need to.”

To provide a sense of scale, at the start of 2023, Northumbrian Water began a huge, £155 million project to upgrade and future proof the water supply network in the south of County Durham and across the Tees Valley.

The scheme, called Project Pipeline: County Durham and Tees Valley, will benefit 200,000 people and see the replacement of existing infrastructure, as well as the construction of a new 24-kilometre pipeline between the company’s Lartington Water Treatment Works and Shildon.

That’s the kind of project being delivered now, but under the next investment period – known in the industry as an asset management plan period, and running from 2025-2030 – Northumbrian Water’s spending is expected to more than double.

It’s an unprecedented level of investment for the industry as it drives up environmental standards and builds a more resilient network for the future.

That’s good news for a region full of Northumbrian Water customers, but that kind of step up in activity can put pressure on supply chains, especially as it comes amid similarly busy periods in the national infrastructure plans for road, rail and other utilities.

Luckily, that’s something Northumbrian Water has been conscious of, and preparing for.

“We’ve made a huge effort to build deeper relationships with our partners in our supply chain over the past few years,” says Monisha, “putting in place a responsible procurement strategy and a supplier charter, and making clear what we expect from partners in terms of ethical practices, job creation and re-investment in the region.”

Northumbrian Water holds up its end of the bargain too, with a commitment to spending 60p in the pound in its local economies.

The company spent a total of £380 million with its suppliers last year.

Its investment is then amplified by the suppliers themselves, with £121 million of that total re-spent with other businesses in the local economy.

Overall, it supported suppliers to create nearly 1600 new jobs last year, and 182 apprenticeships across the region.

“We recognise that as one of the biggest businesses in the North East, we have a responsibility to do what we can to improve our local communities,” says Monisha.

“That starts with our spending power, but also involves using our influence and expertise to help our partners have a positive impact too.”

It’s an approach that’s proving fruitful; as well as the jobs and apprenticeships created, Northumbrian Water’s suppliers have contributed more than 10,000 volunteering hours to local causes.

That mirrors Northumbrian Water’s internal scheme, which in 2022 saw 38 per cent of people take advantage of an initiative to use paid time for volunteering, working with more than 300 organisations in their local areas.

“This kind of activity has become embedded in what we do, and in our relationships with partners,” says Monisha.

“As a business, alongside our people’s volunteering, we re-invest one per cent of our profits into community activities, working on educational programmes, Christmas appeals, citizen science projects – a whole variety of things.”

A recent development with suppliers has been the formalising of their involvement in similar activities, with a real focus on delivering true social value.

In the case of the Project Pipeline works across County Durham and the Tees Valley, lead contractor Farrans worked with Northumbrian Water to agree a social value delivery plan before the project began.

“They’ve already delivered a wide range of activity towards that,” says Monisha, “attending a careers fair, creating a work experience placement, working with local employment support initiatives to fill vacancies, and engaging with stakeholders like local schools and colleges, Jobcentre Plus and Durham Community Action.

“It all aims to really ground them in local communities.”

The challenge now for Monisha and her team is to scale up the model Northumbrian Water has developed and put it into place with Farrans and their other suppliers, so it can be used across the next, expanded five-year plan.

Monisha says: “For us, the next 18 months or so, to the start of our 2025-2030 period, is all about capacity-building.

“Firstly, that will be capacity in our own team, to make sure we can deliver high-quality projects, but – importantly – capacity among our potential partners too.”

She adds: “It’s absolutely a challenge, but it’s filled with opportunity too.

“The opportunity to invest more and create greater value in the North East.

“The opportunity to build new collaborations, which will let us better serve our customers.

“And the opportunity to innovate and help the region move towards net-zero while improving its water environments.”