Deputy prime minister John Prescott’s 10-point action plan for the water industry has galvanised some of those in process control whose client base is already strongly established in the utilities. And the good news is: big bucks could be in the offing.
Collectively, utilities form one of the biggest markets for our industry. And water is at the forefront – in financial terms, well ahead of electricity and gas.
While the water industry reflects on the last two years with some disquiet, not least for the dearth of raw material arising from two years of drought, along with stinging press and public criticism levelled at it over leakages, its problems could translate into hard currency for others.
And one of the reasons is that Prescott has ‘done a deal’ with the water companies that will seal co-operation over the remediation of pipeline leakages in the so-called ‘boundary box’ between private properties and the water companies’ own infrastructure.
Few of the water companies have escaped the public humiliation brought about by two dry summers, but there were some beneficiaries – and we’re talking here specifically of those producing data logging equipment. Milieutech PLC is a case in point.
Forget the windfall levy. The water companies saw it coming and, says Michael Merrick, managing director of Milieutech, have made adequate provision to ensure it will do nothing to staunch the flow of investment into automation following the considerable de-manning that has taken place in recent years.
‘After a slow start, we’re seeing the water companies invest a lot of money, and they have committed a lot of it to equipment like our own products in the data logging field,’ says Merrick.
‘All the indications are that the market will continue to grow rapidly, particularly while the focus remains on leakage, tightening EC legislation on water quality and pollution, and UK urban pollution directives.’
A major contributing factor has been the initiative by John Prescott, which guarantees supply pipelines of potable water will be repaired entirely free of charge by the utility.
The transition to private ownership and the years that followed have been kind to the water companies, observes Merrick, and required little or no borrowing to put in place capital schemes, the latter being funded mainly from revenue. This has left the water companies in a healthy position, with a strong borrowing capacity, in the unlikely event that they will need it.
Which is encouraging for companies such as Milieutech, whose equipment and services are tailor made to tackling the big issues of the present.