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.