WEX NEWS: Lila Thompson reveals British Water’s plans to collaborate, coordinate and co-create  – more at WEX Global 2020 in Valencia next week

Lila Thompson is Chief Executive of British Water. At WEX Global in Valencia, she will be co-chairing a session on Day 2 of the conference called: ‘Water Reuse from a Circular Economy Perspective and Potential Risks from an Unregulated Approach’. We caught up with her in advance to see what British Water is up to…


Why do you come to WEX?

WEX is a great place to meet representatives from water companies, leading contractors and consultants who might want to partner with UK companies. I also want to witness and understand real life case studies from other countries and utilities, which are well represented and accessible at WEX.

What’s happening at British Water?

I took over the role of Chief Executive on 3 December 2018, which is a completely different role from my previous one of International Director. I have spent my first year getting to know our members, finding out what their concerns are and how I can best support their businesses.  British Water rebranded in November 2018, with a new logo which you will have seen. The ‘Women in Water’ series of events has recently been set up to encourage and support the recruitment and retention of women in the sector. Alongside this, we have pledged that 30% of British Water’s Board will be female by 2025, and that every panel must contain at least one female participant. We also held two conferences on ‘collaboration’ were held in April 2019, one in partnership with the Water Research Centre (WRc) and one with Xylem with the support of Ofwat.

What else is new?

We are keen to continue to assist Ofwat with their new strategy and innovation fund, making sure that supplier concerns are heard and that blockers to innovation are removed. The recently launched £200m ‘innovation fund’ should encourage the supply community to work together to stimulate innovation in the sector. Ofwat is also encouraging a ‘Centre of Excellence’– possibly a collection of virtual and physical zones – so that instead of water companies independently running trials for innovative systems individually, they can work together and share results. British Water has a pivotal role to play in this in terms of bringing people together to share best practice, goals, and to encourage data sharing.

What about the Circular Economy

Lots of British Water member companies are in this space. Recently the UK water sector has committed to go Net Zero Carbon by 2030, and it’s the first sector to do this! How we get there is obviously a big issue now – we are running an event in June, focusing on sustainability for the environment and the effects of climate change.

Exciting – so what’s next?

We are also focused on international innovation and have an advisor for Brexit who is closely monitoring the situation to see what the impact will be on the supply chain. Lots of utilities have already made plans, but we are interested to see how the trade negotiations will develop. We have trade missions to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Vietnam coming up, to cite a few. At Davos recently, water was high on the agenda. Will the water sector be able to rise to the challenges? I think so, absolutely, but the era of rivalry is over. Now it’s all about the three Cs of Collaboration, Coordination and Co-creation – and that’s what we have to focus on to rise to the Challenge!

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