A government minister has condemned Southern Water for its poor performance and warned it must do better.

Speaking exclusively to The Argus, Rebecca Pow, minister for environmental quality and resilience, shared her disappointment with the water company.

It comes following a damning report from the Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) last week, in which Southern Water ranked as the worst performing water company nationally based on metrics such as customer satisfaction, water quality, and pollution incidents.

Ms Pow met the chief executives of underperforming water companies, including Southern Water, to discuss what they need to do to improve.

She said: “Securing clean and plentiful water for future generations is an absolute priority for this government.

“This week the Environment Secretary and I met with the chief executives of underperforming water companies, including Southern Water, to outline the improvement actions that urgently need to be put in place to improve their performance, both for their customers and our environment.

“As Water Minister, I am particularly concerned about the unacceptable level of serious pollution incidents and a deterioration in overall compliance at sewage treatment works across the country.”

She said residents across Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight "no doubt share my disappointment" with the performance of Southern Water, which is underperforming  in ten of the 12 metrics measured in the Ofwat report.

Ms Pow said: “This part of the country has some beautiful coastline and so it is unacceptable that these beaches and waterways are being affected by discharges of untreated sewage.

“Southern Water has the highest number of pollution incidents per 10,000km of sewer of any water company in 2021. "

Ms Pow issued a non-negotiable warning to Southern Water, among other failing water companies. She said: “I have told water companies in no uncertain terms that they need to raise their game and those that do not meet expectations will be held to account.”

The Environment Agency and Ofwat are carrying out the largest investigation of its kind into water and sewage treatment companies.

Over £102 million of fines were dished out for pollution incidents as a result of Environment Agency prosecutions.

Ms Pow said: “It is time for the water companies to act, they must respond to government’s priorities for the sector and deliver on the new duties in the Environment Act to deliver the outcomes customers rightly expect.

"This government has been clear that we expect industry to prioritise action on the environment, deliver a resilient and sustainable water supply, and significantly reduce the use of storm overflows which were only ever meant for emergency use. This is absolutely vital for customers and the environment, both now and in the future.”

“I welcomed the opportunity to meet with Minister Pow and the Environment Secretary recently, to discuss Southern Water’s improvement plans, and I look forward to meeting again as required. 


In response to this, Chief Executive Officer of Southern Water, Lawrence Gosden said: “Our performance in the last financial year was not good enough, however in the subsequent nine months we are seeing strong evidence of improvement. With a new majority shareholder, we are now spending £2bn between 2020 and 2025 to deliver real change for the benefit of both our customers and the environment.   

Mr Gosden was appointed CEO in July 2022. He said: “We have reduced pollution incidents by almost 40% year-to-date, and will reduce 80% of our pollution incidents over the next three years, whilst maintaining our industry-leading self-reporting and boosting our leakage and flooding performances. We’re also investing record amounts in reducing leakage and improving our networks and equipment. Our Cleaner Rivers and Seas Task Force is continuing to work with partners across the region to reduce the volume of surface water runoff entering our sewage network, and the subsequent use of storm overflows. 

“The positive effects will not all be felt immediately, but we will continue to be fully transparent, reporting regularly on progress. Customers should also be reassured, our debt has been reduced, our structure simplified and our resilience increased. We are also investing the money where it’s needed - no external dividends have gone to shareholders since 2017.”