Water Competition - the missing link for multi-utility market development?The water and sewerage market is the last of the UK utilities to introduce retail competition, and it will take a big step in that direction when the retail market for non-household customers in England is fully opened in April 2017. This move follows the opening of the non-household market in Scotland in 2008. With further competition potentially on the horizon for household water customers in England, many existing and potential market players have started to position themselves for the new and emerging business environment.

The opening of the gas and electricity markets, previously separate markets, with separate market participants, market arrangements and regulators, set off powerful forces of change towards market convergence, including transformational mergers and acquisitions, and innovative service and dual fuel propositions for customers. The upshot was the emergence of an energy market, with gas players entering the electricity market and electricity players entering the gas market, and the merger of Offer and Ofgas to create Ofgem.

The introduction of competition in energy has led to a separation of functions (e.g. retail and distribution), as well as corporate development and specialisation by companies in parts of the value chain.

The deregulation of telecommunications, and the technological revolution triggered by the internet and mobile technology, has led to similar forces for change in telecoms, with rapid convergence and multi-product bundling in fixed line, broadband services, mobile and TV / broadband / entertainment services.

It is timely to consider whether similar forces will be unleashed by the water and sewerage market opening, leading to further convergence and restructuring of the utilities markets and the emergence of multi-utility players. These could include established energy companies partnering with water specialists, water companies partnering with energy companies and the entry of specialist niche players and large customer centric brands such as Virgin, BT, Tesco, and Sky into the market. This prospect is of critical importance for existing and new water retailers, but also for retailers in other utilities considering entry into the water market, or defending themselves against potential moves by water players into the energy market. The implications of an emergence of a multi-utility market will be just as profound for other market actors, policy makers and regulators.

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