We put our customers at the heart of everything we do and aim to ensure that we deliver an unrivalled customer experience to all of our customers. Our customers have told us that a personal approach is really valued by them, so we have developed our customer service further through our Inclusivity Strategy which explains how we will provide extra support to those who need it and ensure that we treat all customers fairly and with respect.
We launched our new customer care and billing system in April 2018. The new system enables a much more personalised service for our customers. This, coupled with planned investment in our digital ambition will transform our customer experiences and give customers real choice of how and when they want to contact us; an essential part of enabling the delivery of our Unrivalled Customer Experience and Inclusivity Strategies.
We have continued to provide a resilient water supply maintaining our industry leading performance in lowest interruptions to supply along with 100% security of supply. During the ‘Beast from the East’ we avoided any major incidents and our people worked extremely hard to keep the water flowing to customers during the very challenging weather. We continue to focus on driving leakage down sustainably using some exciting new technology and data science. Our award winning approach to water efficiency through our Every Drop Counts campaign grows every year and our engagement programme with school children continues to be a huge success.
The quality of the water we produce remains exceptionally high and we have made further progress in driving down instances of discolouration and taste and odour complaints from customers. We have continued to take an active catchment management approach to improving the quality of water in the environment, working with a number of partners to help us deliver more effectively together.
In our wastewater business we have seen further reductions in sewer flooding incidents, which is a testament to the number of innovative approaches we have adopted. These range from our award-winning Love Your Drain and Rainwise campaigns, through which we engage with customers about ways to prevent flooding occurring, to our partnership approach to sustainable urban drainage solutions.
In the wider environment we are proud that all of the bathing waters in our north east operating region continue to meet the required standard and that the vast majority achieve the good or excellent standard. We continue to deliver excellent levels of wastewater treatment compliance and our transformative pollution management programme has helped us to reduce significantly the number of incidents over recent years.
One of the highlights of 2017/18 was our inaugural Innovation Festival where we hosted over 1,000 people over the week-long event with the aim of finding ways to address environmental and social issues that affect us all. It was great to see our employees engaging with our customers, other water companies and some world class partners who are leading in their fields. We are actively developing a number of the ideas to improve the lives of our customers and communities. We are well advanced with our plans for our second Festival this summer which we intend to be even bigger and better.
We are also working with partners from across the utility sector to tackle the problem of future skills shortages through our NWG Academy, by engaging with schools and sponsoring research, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) disciplines. We are also focusing on developing our people through a wide range of apprenticeships and it’s exciting to see not only many younger people joining us through this route but also the number of our existing employees taking the opportunity to develop their skills and careers through an apprenticeship.
The successes above are a result of the hard work that our 3,000+ employees put in every day and these efforts were recognised at a national level when we were named Utility of the Year at the Utility Week Awards, Water Company of the Year at the Water Industry Awards and also received the UK Excellence Award for best large private sector company from the British Quality Foundation. These awards recognised in particular our emphasis on customer service as well as our approach to innovation and sustainability.