Who is new Thames Water CEO Cathryn Ross? Previous role for water regulator Ofwat explained
A sewage campaigner said we need a “robust” regulator “not one that can’t draw the line between regulator and regulated”
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The appointment comes following the resignation of former CEO of the water firm Sarah Bentley after she promised to forgo her bonus as public anger mounted over the amount of sewage being discharged into the UK rivers and seas.
The new interim CEO Ross now works for the company in a newly-created role of Strategy and Regulatory Affairs Director.
She joins Thames Water after being responsible for BT’s global regulatory activities - and before this she was the CEO of Ofwat where she was responsible for ensuring the industry delivered against the expectations of customers, wider society and the environment.
According to Thames Water, she delivered a cultural transformation programme across Ofwat “significantly improving the engagement and empowerment of her colleagues.”
Ross said she is “very excited to be joining Thames Water” and looks forward to “working with my new colleagues to address the challenges faced by its customers today.”
While outgoing CEO Bentley said: “It is evident we are not providing our customers, communities and the broader environment with an acceptable service.
“We are therefore undertaking a significant programme designed to improve our performance, and Cathryn will play an important role in helping deliver this, not least ensuring that our customers are at the heart of all our strategic decision making.”
Louise Reddy, Policy Officer at environment group Surfers Against Sewage, said the group is “not surprised that the waters between Ofwat and water companies have been muddied.”
She added: “We need a robust and challenging regulator to get us out of this mess. Not one that can’t draw the line between regulator and regulated.”
A recent analysis by the Observer found 27 former Ofwat directors, managers and consultants are now working in the industry they helped to regulate, and about half are now in senior positions.
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday also revealed six of England’s nine water firms have recruited Ofwat officials into senior roles.
Thames Water hired three senior Ofwat employees including former director Jonathan Read.
Read had been Thames Water’s Director of Regulatory Policy & Investigations since January 2022, and was previously Ofwat’s Director of Strategy & Policy between 2018 and 2020.
Yorkshire Water hired two ex-Ofwat officials, a senior economist and non-executive director last year, and South West Water recruited a former Ofwat director of strategy last year.
Northumbrian Water has hired two senior Ofwat regulatory experts since 2020.
Severn Trent hired 11 senior Ofwat workers, while nine moved from the company to join the regulator, and Southern Water hired an ex-Ofwat pricing expert to head its corporate strategy while two managers joined Ofwat.
Thames Water said the appointment of Ross “is another important step in building a strong leadership team to transform the service Thames Water provides to its customers, communities and the environment.”
In 2017, while CEO of Ofwat, Ross responded to an article in the Financial Times where reporter Martin Baggs had slammed water privatisation as looking “little more than an organised rip-off.”
She said the article had “failed to recognise how Ofwat works to protect customers of monopoly water companies” as “customer’s interest is central to everything we do.”
She added that “far from what the article claims” the regulator “actively collects and analyses information on water companies to monitor their financial health and to identify any potential risks which may impact on service delivery and prove harmful to customers.”
Thames Water is currently facing fears of collapse as its debt pile reaches a mammoth £14 billion.
It has secured £750 million in funds from its shareholders, but the water company said it would be looking for an extra £2.5 billion from its shareholders for its next business plan which covers the period from 2025 to 2030.
The government has said it is ready to act in a worst case scenario if the company, which serves a quarter of the UK’s population, collapses.