The board has responsibility for the health of the company and needs to take a long-term view, managing the conflict between short-term interests and the long-term impacts of its decisions.
Sir David Higgins
Over the past year the board’s focus has been has been dominated by the group’s response to the pandemic and ensuring the safety and support for our employees while maintaining the delivery of services to customers across our region. As a regulated monopoly supplier, with a population of 7.3 million in our region, we need to work hard to meet the high expectations customers have for us, both in terms of the services we provide but also in behaving as a responsible business in the way in which we provide them. To do so is crucial to the long-term success of United Utilities.
The past year has challenged the normal interaction of both the board and management. The board were kept fully apprised of management’s actions and changes to normal business practices in the early stages of the pandemic. A combination of physical meetings where possible, in conjunction with virtual board and committee meetings, have been held to maintain the integrity of our governance structure. Induction programmes for Kath and Doug were undertaken virtually, I know, in due course, Kath and Doug will welcome the opportunity to visit some of the company’s principal operational sites and important capital projects, as will all board members. Informal virtual meetings have been held the evening before board meetings, as a substitute for our usual informal pre-board dinners. The annual board evaluation was externally facilitated this year, by virtual means by Independent Audit Limited.
Additionally, we have held a number of virtual workshops on key topics, including: leakage; digital strategy; diversity and inclusion and, as a direct consequence of the pandemic, considering the options for new ways of working for employees across appropriate parts of our business. These in-depth sessions have provided board members with a greater understanding of these particular challenges and initiatives, and how they are being addressed by management. We held a strategy day in November 2020, enabling the board to spend time debating a number of strategic and long-term business priorities, an action which was identified in the 2019/20 board evaluation. A particular focus for the day, was understanding the plans for the Haweswater Aqueduct Resilience Programme and Ofwat’s ‘direct procurement for customers’ approach, through which the programme will be delivered.
Historically, the company’s annual general meeting held in July each year has welcomed a number of shareholders who have been regular attendees, last year of course being the exception. We are hoping that this will be an event in the corporate calendar that can be reinstated in the years to come. We are however, proposing to adopt new articles of association at the forthcoming 2021 annual general meeting, including the power to be able to hold fully hybrid meetings should the need arise, in line with market best practice.
Over the past year the board’s focus has been has been dominated by the group’s response to the pandemic and ensuring the safety and support for our employees while maintaining the delivery of services to customers across our region.
Schedule of matters reserved for the board unitedutilities.com/corporate-governance
A copy of the Financial Reporting Council’s 2018 UK Corporate Governance Code can be found at frc.org.uk