Why stakeholder engagement matters
Delivering water and wastewater services underpins our region's economy, society and environment and this creates a deep connection between the company and the society we serve. We do not operate in isolation and we cannot alone determine what the region needs from its water supplier.
It is essential that we engage with stakeholders across the North West to ensure our service delivery is prioritised to meet those needs and that we serve customers in a reliable and sustainable way. We depend on the perspectives that stakeholders can bring to our decision-making, but this can only be achieved if we build strong, constructive relationships with a broad range of stakeholders representing different interests.
There is considerable stakeholder interest in corporate governance and business conduct, and how actions taken by companies need to build trust. As a listed company we comply with the UK Corporate Governance Code, but it is also important that our approach to stakeholder engagement is subject to robust governance so that the relationships we develop are taken into account in our decision-making. This makes an important contribution to building trust. The board's corporate responsibility committee meets four times a year and an update on stakeholder engagement is one of its standing agenda items. The chair of the independent customer challenge group, YourVoice, attends board meetings to provide an external perspective.
Who are our principal stakeholders?
Customers – Through relentless focus on improving service at an efficient cost, we can help to build their trust and confidence in our service delivery. Providing clean drinking water remains one of our most significant contributions to public health, and customers expect us to provide reliable water and wastewater services they can depend upon. They also want us to support customers in vulnerable circumstances.
Community – Our work puts us right at the heart of the communities in which we operate. With the highest proportion of the UK's most socially and economically deprived areas in the North West, working with community stakeholders is critical if we are to make a meaningful contribution to tackling water poverty. Read more about ʻOur first affordability summitʼ. Other organisations play an important role in tackling the water challenges we face of too much water, too little water, and water of the right quality.
Suppliers – Supporting jobs through our supply chain stimulates the development of skills and employment the North West economy needs. By maintaining good relationships with suppliers we can continue to improve our delivery of projects to time and good quality at efficient costs. Working with responsible suppliers means we can achieve more and succeed together. Key for our suppliers is fair and prompt payment terms and, in this year's report, we provide information on our payment performance.
See our Stakeholder report for a table of data that our stakeholders consider the most relevant.
Employees – By developing our people we can continue to improve our service to customers, and by demonstrating that we are a dynamic, innovative organisation we can attract the talent our future workforce needs. Increasing the diversity of our employees ensures we have access to a broad set of views that are fit for our modern society. Looking after the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees is paramount.
Investors and analysts – Our shares are held by individuals and large investors, including pension funds and charities, and we provide a return that is relied on by millions. We help investors and analysts to understand our business – such as priorities around risk and return, growth and income, and corporate governance – to assist them in making the right investment decisions for themselves, their investors and clients.
Regulators – We engage actively to help shape the policy and regulatory framework within which we operate, covering customer, economic and environmental factors. These priorities require balancing and need to be looked at over a long-term horizon. Maintaining relationships is key to assist with this. There are also changes in the priorities and aims of our regulators over time, and actively engaging in discussions around future policy is important for us to provide the company perspective.
Political – Engagement with national and local government, as well as elected representatives and devolved administrations, on topics of public interest helps us to understand their issues and seek solutions to shared environmental, social, economic and governance issues.
Media – It is through the media, and increasingly its social media platforms, that many stakeholders receive their information about us and our activities. Given the essential nature of our services, it is important that coverage is fair, balanced and accurate, requiring effective two-way dialogue.
How we engage with stakeholders
We approach stakeholder engagement in an inclusive way, taking time to understand which stakeholders are interested in which topics, holding genuine two-way conversations with them and, through continuous engagement, working hard to understand any concerns or issues from their perspective to ensure a suitable response from the company.
In some cases, our engagement focuses on future requirements so that our investment in infrastructure enables the North West economy to grow. Other times, we have to be more reactive, supporting our stakeholders when issues arise such as extreme weather events. Our approach goes beyond simple engagement, as it is important to understand what issues our stakeholders consider to be material and the wider benefit that addressing these issues brings.
To understand which issues are of material concern to stakeholders, and which are most material to our company strategy, we regularly compile a materiality matrix. This is informed by extensive stakeholder consultation and customer research, which we carry out on a rolling programme to validate our business planning, and by business representatives sitting on our corporate responsibility panel.
Our matrix is available on our website – see unitedutilities.com/corporate/responsibility/our-approach/materiality
There are a number of ways in which we engage with stakeholders. For example, our panel of customer representatives, YourVoice, typically meets quarterly to ensure that customers are at the heart of the company's business planning engagement.
We arrange regular meetings with stakeholders from across the region to cover a variety of topics, such as workshops to discuss priorities for our draft business plan. Some of our employees also have formal roles on bodies set up by our stakeholders, providing the opportunity to give the company's perspective on topics ranging from land management to infrastructure development.
We act on the findings of our annual opinion surveys to ensure that employees are engaged and committed to deliver the company's goals and objectives.
For investors, our programme of regular engagement allows us to explore matters of financing and how our company strategy will provide them suitable returns.
Stakeholder engagement activities
As part of our continuous programme of communicating with our stakeholders, we held a series of workshops in 2017/18 where 200 representatives from local authorities, tourism bodies, environmental regulators, public health representatives, national and local non-governmental organisations and the business community came together to discuss their priorities for our services.
Our 'you care more than you think' campaign using #nwmatters encouraged feedback on our draft 2020–25 business plan by encouraging people in the North West to think about what water really means to their lives. The campaign reached over 1.5 million people, with 25,000 engagements from social media users and over 4,000 face-to-face interactions at nine roadshows. This insight is influencing what we do, the services we deliver, and shaping what we propose for our future plans.
Our first-ever affordability summit brought together the region's stakeholders to identify ways to help customers in vulnerable circumstances. Five key action areas emerged, where we are co-creating and co-delivering projects to find shared solutions to shared problems.
We actively involved customers in the design process for a new bill for metered customers, learning what aspects of the existing bill were not working effectively, then testing the new design with them.
Engagement with environmental stakeholders in Cumbria has shaped the solution we are installing to improve water quality in the River Petteril. Working with partners, we are implementing a range of solutions that will bring wider benefits than just water quality, at a lower overall cost.
Our work underpins the North West's economy, society and environment, and this creates a deep connection with the society we serve
Our investment in infrastructure – totalling £3.8 billion in the current regulatory period – enables the North West economy to grow
We depend on the perspectives that stakeholders can bring to help in our planning and strategic decision-making processes
Our customer representative panel, YourVoice, meets regularly to ensure customers are at the heart of our planning
Stakeholder interest: UN Sustainable Development Goals
Since they were published, stakeholder interest has increased in the contributions companies are making to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Based on our activities, we have identified five goals most material to United Utilities and the nature of the essential services that we provide. Our approach to operating in a responsible manner aligns quite naturally with these goals. We also explain the steps we are taking to meet the goals.
Ensure access to water and sanitation forall – This is our core function providing safe, resilient and affordable water and wastewater services to communities across the North West, promoting efficiency and protecting and enhancing water-related ecosystems.
Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all – Our daily operations provide direct and indirect employment, enabling training and development opportunities in safe and secure working environments. Information on diversity within our business can be found in the Nomination committee section.
Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation – Ensuring the region where we operate has reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure for the long-term requires innovation to keep pace with an increasingly digital world. See Rising to the resilience challenge for more details on our approach to resilience and Innovation across our entire business for some examples of how we are innovating across the business.
Make cities and communities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable – Using our understanding of customer needs and priorities, we deliver services that meet their expectations and engage with communities to enhance participation in what we do.
Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies and institutions – Running our business with integrity, promoting transparency and maintaining high ethical standards of business conduct and corporate governance – those systems and processes through which our organisation is managed, controlled and held accountable.
We will increasingly need to work in partnership with all our stakeholders in order to achieve these goals.
Read more on Business insight - Balancing competing interests
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