The Last Word – Josh Gill

February 3, 2021

Closing this month’s issue of North East Times, Josh Gill, chief executive and founder of Wynyard-based Everflow Group, looks at the UK water market and the simple ways in which it can be improved for customers, as well as the importance of community when launching a business.

Q: You launched Everflow Water in 2015 with a blueprint to offer low-cost water and have since grown thanks to greater market competition in England and Scotland and a focus on innovation. However, if you could choose one game-changing policy that could revolutionise the utilities sector and strengthen your position within it, what would it be?

A: From the beginning, we’ve been focused strongly on technology and how we can use it to make things simpler for customers – the utility market is quite complex usually.

One of the biggest barriers we’ve found in terms of being able to completely automate the customer journey is the lack of smart meters in the market.

If that were to change, I think that would remove the one big barrier we encounter to fully automated customer journeys in the water sector. About 90 per cent of the business market in England is metered, and, of those, most are dumb meters. It is changing in some regions, but it would be better if this was to be mandated, with a clear timescale of when it had to change.

At the moment, it is all very piecemeal – there’s no pressure from regulators to make the switch – and so the industry is at risk of making things really difficult for customers, in terms of them having significantly different experiences from one region of the country to the next.

The data we would gain from smart meters would help us in three ways. Firstly, it would make for really accurate billing. Secondly, it would allow quick and easy switching, and, thirdly, access to data can help us spot things like leakage, as well as helping customers think more closely about water efficiency.

Q: Why do you think this change would deliver great benefits?

A: For us, it’s the single biggest sticking point in terms of what we can and can’t automate, because we simply don’t have the live data we have in other parts of the business, and it’s impossible to get that data because people don’t have smart meters. Take COVID-19, for example. For us, the biggest challenge has been getting meter readings, because premises aren’t accessible.

If all meters were smart meters, we could see that nobody is using water, so we wouldn’t bill them for it. As it stands, we’re having to rely on estimates, which isn’t good for customer experience – or for retailers, as we end up paying wholesalers for fictional usage that we have no way to verify.

The reality is that, while we live in a country with plenty of water, there are significant pressures around the big cities, particularly London and the South East, where they have been close to being without water. It’s only a matter of time before that does happen.

Q: As a business, you support community projects, such as schools and children’s sports clubs, and commission wells in countries with limited access to safe drinking water. Just how integral are such ethical elements to your operations?

A: It’s absolutely vital and was one of things that was really important when we set up the business – it wasn’t an add-on. My view is that it is right that businesses make profits – we live in a capitalist society and that’s the way to create wealth for both people and growth – but we absolutely have to recognise our responsibility as leaders to ensure we can give back to those people who don’t have access to the same resources we do.

It’s always something we’re looking to build on, particularly with projects closer to home. We have our scheme where we build wells in Africa and Asia, and now we’re looking at projects we can get involved with in the UK too.

Josh Gill

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