World Water Day 2021 Spotlight - Gail Walker, Citizens Advice Scotland
Gail Walker is the Water Policy Team Manager at Citizens Advice Scotland. She is responsible for consumer-focused policy and advocacy work to secure the best outcomes for those who pay for and use water and wastewater services in Scotland. Gail has 13 years’ experience working in Scotland’s water industry, representing consumers across a wide range of public and private water policy within both the domestic and non-household market. Most recently, Gail was involved in shaping the UK 2050 Water Innovation Strategy to ensure it retained a strong focus on customers and communities.
During the last three years, Gail has worked as part of a team of senior water industry stakeholders to co-design the price review for 2021-27, ensuring that service users are at the heart of that process and its outcomes. Underpinning this process is ethical business regulation and practice, which encourages all stakeholders to work together to ‘do the right thing’ for customers, the sector and the environment.
Gail is a member of the Interim Customer Group, currently working with Scottish Water to develop a national engagement strategy, which will empower those that use and are impacted by service delivery.
As someone who experienced flooding first-hand, Gail is a passionate advocate for empowering and equipping communities to become more resilient. She co-coordinates a local Flood Group in her hometown of Tillicoultry, and is a Board member and Trustee of the Scottish Flood Forum using her experience of flooding to help direct the organisation’s efforts to support those at risk of flooding.
Prior to working in the water sector, Gail worked in strategic programme management across a number of areas including third world development in Malawi, pensions and insurance, supply chain management, and the NHS.
The Water / People Nexus – Gail Walker
We’re all consumers of goods and services, every minute of every hour of every day. We move in and out of multiple service scenarios seamlessly, not really thinking about the dynamic – until our finely balanced, busy days start to go wrong because the wheels have fallen off a service that we take for granted, and we’ve felt the inconvenience or discomfort!
Prior to Covid-19, many of us travelled to work on a daily basis. Our mornings consisted of a tightly managed minute by minute schedule, from getting up, washed, dressed, fed and to the station on time for a train, or onto the motorway to miss the worst of the traffic. Hopefully by the time we reached the office, we’d managed to grab a coffee somewhere on the way. So, there you have it – a real time journey through multiple sectors delivering real time, linked and often co-dependent services in their required sequence:
- Local authority Roads Department
- NCP carparks
- Costa Coffee
During Covid, we’ve become even more dependent on household utility services working well for us throughout the day to support home working and home schooling, heralding an increased reliance on the internet to allow us to communicate with the outside world without turning us into a series of disconnected pixels or a disembodied tinny voice! Covid has forced us to simplify our days, unwind the complexity and slim down the number of services we use during the day to just a few that are absolutely critical. Perhaps in doing so and losing a lot of the ‘white noise’ that filled our days, we have begun to distinguish between those services that we absolutely need and those that are ‘nice to haves’.
I’ve worked in Scotland’s water sector since 2008. During the last 13 years, I’ve witnessed a significant shift within Scottish Water from simply focusing on improving customer services, to recognising the need to engage more constructively with the public across a myriad of direct and hidden ‘touch points’ or ‘moments of truth’, each leaving an individual or community with an experience of Scottish Water. This has initiated a review of how customers and communities are viewed by the organisation and its staff and has led to a strong and clear commitment to develop ‘customer and community centric’ culture, which is wholly welcomed by those of us concerned with representing those that use and are impacted by the sector’s services.
Customer satisfaction with water and wastewater services in Scotland has been growing steadily. In fact, during last year’s lock down it rose to above 90%. So, that would suggest that on some level we’re aware of the importance of water and appreciative of Scottish Water’s as an organisation, particularly when we have a water related issue and someone comes out and restores essential services despite being in the middle of a pandemic.
This past year, we’ve all recognised the importance of having reliable access to water: our homes are busy during the day, we’re having to wash our hands more frequently, toilets are flushed more often, cups of tea are made ad nauseum. Services must work for those who need them.
Yet how often do we really give water a second thought? Is it just a part of our life in all its power shower, Quooker tap or more natural state goodness – wrapped up or hidden away in household gadgets and latest must haves? How often do we think about its value, our total dependence on it and our need to protect it?
As with all living beings, we depend on access to water for our survival. And to make water safe to drink, we need to treat it. But if we’re not involved in the process and therefore don’t appreciate the significance, do we lose the bigger picture? Well, the answer is yes, we probably do.
We’re living in a time of climate change and of understanding the damage we’re doing to the planet. The future health of our world and its ability to sustain us is of significant concern. We need to reconsider the relationships between society and natural resources and effect changes that restore a more realistic balance, including re-engaging consumers with goods and services in a way that supports understanding and positive choices over behaviour and usage.
Water is part of this equation. It should be cherished, respected, and valued. A significant challenge that the water sector and government face is how to achieve this in a way that positively embeds and reflects an awareness of the importance of water in people’s everyday behaviour. Making visible what’s invisible and developing conscious choices that help to protect it; reconnecting people to something essential that cannot be taken for granted.
My aim is to bring some thoughts around this to World Water Day.