Business

Union attacks Severn Trent over water shortages

The dried out bed of the Ogston Reservoir owned by Severn Trent
Image caption Severn Trent reservoirs are running low

Severn Trent water has warned parts of its region may face water restrictions as reservoir levels run low.

The water firm supplies 3.7m households and businesses in the West and East Midlands and Mid-Wales.

Severn Trent is blaming the problems on the weather - in particular, an exceptionally dry spring.

The GMB union has accused the the company of mismanaging the introduction of a new computer system. The company denies the allegation.

In May, it warned that reservoir levels were 10% below normal for the time of year.

In a statement to the BBC on Wednesday, Severn Trent said restrictions were possible, as parts of the Midlands had experienced the second driest spring since records began.

"There is an increasing likelihood of water restrictions in some parts of the region, unless we see a return to the seasonal average rainfall within the near future," the firm added.

The company said it was looking to conserve supplies and focus on leakage.

In its most recent company results, Severn Trent admitted failing to meet agreed leakage targets during the last financial year.

The company blamed the unusually cold weather and sudden thaw for the problems. It says it is now on target for this year.

The water industry regulator, Ofwat, says it will investigate the failure.

"The fact that Severn Trent is reporting it has failed to meet its target is clearly a very serious issue. We will investigate this failure in detail. We will then take appropriate action," said a spokesman.

Union attacks

At the GMB's annual congress in Brighton, the union's national secretary, Gary Smith, accused the company of mismanaging its water resources.

The union alleges that problems with the introduction of a new computer system have helped exacerbate the water shortage.

Mr Smith claimed the problems "led to water draining out of the reservoirs, as the delay in fixing the leaks stretched out to 30 days, compared with the target of three days".

"The management will blame the weather and will seek to divert attention from their own mismanagement," he added.

Severn Trent says half of all leaks are fixed within the company's own three-day target.

In a statement, it said: "The introduction of any major computer system is challenging but we refute entirely the suggestion that the current water resources situation is a result of the introduction of [software system] SAP or mismanagement."

Mr Smith also alleged the company had failed to meet Ofwat targets for fixing supply problems to properties within six hours.

In its preliminary annual results, Severn Trent reported that the number of unplanned interruptions to supply lasting longer than six hours had more than doubled.

Severn Trent said the difficulties were entirely down to the cold weather, which caused increased leakages during the winter.

It said workers would be disappointed by the union's attacks.

"All of our colleagues are doing their utmost to ensure our customers continue to receive a continuous supply of high quality drinking water and they will be as disappointed as us at this action of one of their unions at this time," said the statement.

More on this story