Thames Water chief in sudden departure amid struggle with £14bn debt pile

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Thames Water has introduced its chief government Sarah Bentley is stepping down with instant impact because the UK’s largest water utility struggles with its huge £14bn debt pile.

The abrupt exit follows rising issues over the monetary stability of the corporate, which gives water and sewage companies for 15mn folks in London and surrounding areas. The federal government and regulator Ofwat are understood to be carefully monitoring the scenario.

Final 12 months the homeowners of Thames Water, a clutch of personal fairness, pension and infrastructure funds, invested £500mn within the firm — the primary fairness injection since privatisation — and pledged an extra £1bn topic to situations. Even then they acknowledged that “additional shareholder assist could also be required”.

Bentley’s sudden exit will add to fears over the corporate’s monetary resilience and lift issues that the federal government and Ofwat would possibly have to step in.

Any monetary collapse may have a “domino impact” and lead different water firms to topple, one chief government of one other water firm warned. In December, Ofwat mentioned it was involved over the monetary resilience of Thames Water, Yorkshire Water, SES Water and Portsmouth Water.

Bentley, who joined Thames Water three years in the past with a £3.1mn golden whats up, will likely be changed on an interim foundation by former Ofwat chief government Cathryn Ross, who’s now director of technique and inside affairs at Thames, and finance boss Alastair Cochran. Bentley’s predecessor Steve Robertson left in 2020 with a £2.8mn pay-off.

Bentley was within the second 12 months of an eight-year turnround plan to deal with leakage and cut back sewage outflows into rivers, a legacy of under-investment in infrastructure.

However the firm was struggling to make progress and a freedom of data request launched this week revealed the leakage charge from Thames Water pipes is the best in 5 years. The corporate won’t meet its goal to cut back them this 12 months.

Bentley mentioned in a press release on Tuesday that “the foundations of the turnround that we have now laid place the corporate for future success”. Nevertheless, Bentley, who was in line for £1.6mn pay package deal, agreed in Could to forgo her bonus amid issues over the corporate’s environmental and buyer efficiency.

Like many water firms Thames Water is underneath strain from rising inflation, together with hovering vitality and chemical costs and better funds on its money owed.

S&P, the score company, has detrimental outlooks for two-thirds of the UK water firms it charges — indicating the potential for downgrades as the results of weaker monetary resilience. Greater than half of the sector’s debt on common is inflation linked, placing strain on firms within the present surroundings. 

Water firms have been drawing up plans to extend family payments by as much as 40 per cent to handle rising prices however they’re but to be agreed by Ofwat, which is anxious about piling strain on households throughout a value of dwelling disaster. Water firms will submit their enterprise plans by October with a ultimate choice to be made by 2025.

Southern Water, which serves 4.2mn prospects throughout Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire, was rescued from the brink of chapter after the Australian asset supervisor Macquarie agreed to step in and take majority management of the corporate in 2021 in a secretive deal agreed with Ofwat.

Martin Younger, analyst at Investec, mentioned the chief government’s resignation at a vital time was “suboptimal”. “The challenges going through the water trade, and sure firms inside it, are well-known. The subsequent regulatory interval will in all probability see larger ranges of funding throughout the trade, with seemingly invoice implications,” he added.

Gary Carter, GMB nationwide officer, mentioned the resignation highlighted “what a deadly scenario Thames Water is in”.

“Shareholders desperately have to put the corporate first and unlock the funds [needed] to maintain the infrastructure and workforce of this important public useful resource from collapsing,” he added.

Ofwat on Tuesday mentioned it might be “in search of assurances in regards to the firm’s continued dedication and ongoing plans to enhance its operational, buyer and environmental efficiency and [its] monetary resilience”.

Ian Marchant, Thames Water’s chair, mentioned Bentley had constructed a “first-class government staff” and led the “first part of the turnround of the corporate”. The corporate will likely be looking for a brand new chief government, he added.

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