NEWS: Water company tackles image at Westminster

Controversy-hit utility South West Water has hired government and media relations agency Westminster Strategy.

Controversy-hit utility South West Water has hired government and media

relations agency Westminster Strategy.

The agency will provide a package of services, including parliamentary

and political monitoring and advice on contact-building with the three

main political parties.

The move follows a catalogue of PR disasters for the utility. It was

attacked for having the highest water charges in the UK and for imposing

restrictions after the summer drought; it lost an appeal to the

Monopolies and Mergers Commission to revise regulator-set price limits;

and it now faces an investigation into a treatment works after 600

people in Devon were struck down by a water-borne stomach illness.

But Roger Furniss, SWW’s head of external relations, said the

appointment was not linked to ‘any specific events’.

‘We have seen a lot of debate about the regulation of the water

industry, and utilities generally, and it is clearly a matter of

political interest,’ said Furniss.

‘Therefore, I think we would have been in the same position whatever had

happened last year.’

Furniss said Westminster Strategy was selected following informal

contact with several lobbying agencies but would not comment on why SWW

had not recruited Burson-Marsteller subsidiary Prima, which it had used

for several years on a project basis.

James Gray, Westminster Strategy director and head of the SWW team, said

that the water company had ‘a good story to tell’. Westminster Strategy

account director David Robertson added that the agency’s objectives

would include making a positive impact on the policies of all three

political parties and educating Westminster audiences about the

particular problems facing SWW, such as its obligation to clean one

third of the nation’s beaches.

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