The Next Chapter: A conversation with Paul
Paul Bresnan, MWHT Managing Director spoke to an industry journalist about the exciting RSK acquisition and gives a contractors view of how the water utility sector is faring and where the future of the sector lies.
With over 200 years in the water sector, MWHT announced recently it has been acquired by RSK, a world-leading environmental organisation in a move that has been described as ‘game-changing’ by Paul.
On 31st August 2021, RSK completed its acquisition of MWH Treatment. RSK is a leading integrated environmental engineering and technical services business, working across multiple sectors including environmental and social,
design and engineering, climate change and sustainability and ground investigation and remediation.
What does this acquisition mean for the future of MWHT?
Any successful business has got to be continually reviewing what is happening in the future and reshaping your understanding of exactly what your clients’ challenges are, so you can help solve them and meet those needs. Our success has been based on that constant sector focus and adaptation.
This acquisition gives us a fantastic opportunity to enhance our capabilities and resources, which will allow us to meet our clients’ expectations both now and in the future – not just in the next five to 10 years, but well beyond that.
On a day-to-day level, nothing will change for our employees or clients. There will be no change of leadership and in fact, this just opens a whole range of new opportunities within MWHT and the wider RSK group.
What it does mean is that we can bring even more expertise and passion for the water sector to bear on some of the world’s most pressing problems on a bigger scale than ever before.
Why are RSK and MWHT a good fit?
For over 30 years RSK has been helping organisations around the world realise their business goals sustainably, efficiently, cost-effectively and with the minimum environmental and social impact.
RSK have a strong focus on delivering practical solutions, globally, to some of the greatest challenges of our time, with a strong focus on the UN’s sustainable development goals, especially around water supply and sanitation.
MWHT have been brought into the group to work on opportunities ahead of us in dealing with this area of huge importance and social value. RSK give us a broader and deeper offering to our clients and the water industry, so we are even better equipped to bring enhanced expertise around sustainability and carbon including nature based solutions.
In addition to the acquisition, MWHT has secured framework contracts with several major water utilities –how will you help the water companies deliver their programmes?
This has been an incredibly busy time for MWHT. We have just secured places on the AMP7 (regulatory asset management period 2020-25) frameworks for 5 English water companies – Severn Trent, United Utilities, Thames Water, Anglian Water, Southern Water and 1 in Scotland in SR21 (2021-27) for Scottish Water.
The frameworks, worth over £1.2bn in total to MWHT, cover multiple infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects to some of the UKs most important assets.
As we move through this regulatory cycle, the regulatory focus and our client’s needs are evolving, and we are focused on providing cost effective solutions in a challenging environment. MWHT are delivering multiple small process projects such as Water Industry National Environment Programme (WINEP) schemes, along with larger schemes.
This regulatory cycle provides a great opportunity for us to continue to increase efficiencies for our partners through innovation and digital delivery, while identifying and implementing resilient solutions that will support these utilities in meeting their regulatory challenges.
Winning these frameworks is a testament to our people and strategic supply chain who provide real value to our delivery. Our teams are trusted by these utilities to design and build complex solutions to complex problems, as well as reacting to emergencies and supporting the day-to-day business issues that a large water and sewerage company experiences.
With the 26th Climate Change Conference (COP26) happening in Glasgow, net zero at the forefront of everyone in the industry’s mind. How do you think the water sector is responding to the drive towards net zero?
Water utilities are ramping up their efforts and we are already seeing companies investigating and investing in circular economy models such as generating renewable electricity on sites, decarbonising fleet vehicles and switching to fossil-free fuels. This is further enhanced by OFWATs green recovery fund which is already seeing increased investment.
What is clear is that the sector will need to invest heavily in new infrastructure, innovative technologies, and recruitment to meet the commitment to reach net zero operations by 2030.
The smart management of water, wastewater and freshwater ecosystems offers a whole range of opportunities for the sector to meet these challenges head on.
MWHT takes its role in reducing carbon emissions seriously and have recently been the Platinum sponsor of the Water Climate Conference where the water sector came together with one voice for COP26 and to link together our shared climate interests. We are also looking forward to attending RSK’s COP26 event in November where we will drive further investigation and collaboration into the net zero challenge.
As I said earlier, RSK give us a broader and deeper offering of services, so we are even better equipped to bring enhanced nature-based solutions to our clients.
Digital transformation is now vital in the water sector – how are MWHT embracing this?
Water utilities are embracing digitization and it will be the key to survival for those who are successful in making the leap to data driven decision making.
MWHT has an amazing 200-year legacy but we are also future focused. It is in our DNA to be agile and so our business is built on harnessing digital tools – right from the concept to a project’s ultimate delivery and operation. At every stage we use digital to bring the project to life for our supply chain operational clients.
For us it is not about having a digital toolbox for the sake of it. It is about innovating to mitigate risk and create value. That is why we are digitally enabled.
Using a suite of digital tools allows organisations to minimise risk. When we say we can deliver by July 21 – on plan and on budget – we know this is correct, because we have used our digital toolbox to carefully plan very element beforehand. Our mantra is that a week of digital rehearsal saves a month on site
The water sector is increasingly focused on improving diversity and Inclusion. What is MWHT doing to improve in this area?
Embracing diversity of all kinds enables organisations to provide a work environment and culture that play a key role in attracting and retaining the right people with the right skills.
There is more to do in both areas. In the water sector, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers represent 5% across energy and utilities compared with 15% across other sectors. In addition, female workers represent 20% across energy and utilities, compared with 47% across other sectors.
All our clients and partners have D&I high on their agenda, they recognise it is challenging but it must be tackled and must be tackled urgently. However, is it also important to note there are some great examples of in the sector, especially in the increasing number of female CEO’s and leaders across regulators and industry bodies.
The pandemic has shown us that flexibility is the way forward, and this will only help increase the recruitment pool and attract and retain people who may not have felt able to work in this sector before.
What lessons did MWHT learn during the pandemic and how are they helping to shape the business moving forward?
We had refreshed our business resilience plans a few months before the pandemic and recently upgraded our IT systems – which meant we were in the enviable position of going into this with a modern set of processes, procedures and robust IT.
Our resilience team had been monitoring the outbreak since January 2020, so within 24 hours of the COVID work from home announcement from the Prime Minister we had an incident management team in place and had made the necessary working from home arrangements for the 50% of employees that were not required on site. Sites stayed open, safe working. Minor disruption
Everyone was given the right tools and equipment to do their job regardless of where they were working. Our first, and most important task, was to ensure everyone was comfortable, safe and had the right tools to do their job.
Communication is vital during any crisis response, both in terms of senior management and wider organisational outreach. We have an incredibly engaged workforce, and everyone was focused on keeping the company going and doing the best job we can for our clients.
We are continuing to learn and will be looking at our existing business resilience plans and refreshing them in the wake of the pandemic. I hope every organisation is using this as an opportunity to critically review their own plans and make updates and adjustments based on learnings from the last 18 months.