Social Acceptability Index Highlights Growing Concerns Over UK Sewerage Sector

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Social Acceptability Index Highlights Growing Concerns Over UK Sewerage Sector

2 minutes
May 25, 2023 10:22 pm

EDHECinfra has created a suite of Social Acceptability Indices. To demonstrate their utility, we thought we would analyse a sector that is always in the news, the UK sewerage sector, where risk just materialised with an expected GBP80m fine of South West Water. If that’s not double materiality, I don’t know what is!

For some context, the UK privatised its sewerage sector in the 1980s. Recent public scrutiny has resulted in the UK government plans to impose unlimited fines on water companies found dumping sewage into rivers and the sea, lifting the current cap of £250,000. This move follows significant public outrage and calls for greater accountability and more substantial penalties for water companies.

The Social Acceptability Indices that EDHECinfra has created use news articles and Twitter data as of 31 March 2023. The figure below shows the evolution of the social impact index (black) for the UK sewerage sector preceding the government decision.

Graph UK sewerage sentiment
We see that the UK sewerage sector has had low social acceptance for a long time compared to the rest of infrastructure assets (dashed line). The public sentiment toward the UK sewerage sector has been more negative over the past four years than the average sentiment across all infrastructure sectors. Simultaneously, the attention index (blue) shows that topics related to the negative reputation of the sector have been discussed much more frequently since 2021. When dissatisfaction among the public accumulates, it can trigger government actions impacting the sector. This puts the recent announcement by the UK Government into context and, to some extent, predicts the likely reaction of the regulator.