Northumbrian Water is working with a wide range of suppliers from across the region to support retained employment levels and bolster businesses’ financial health throughout the Covid-19 period.

Since lockdown was announced in March, many businesses have suffered from uncertainty of future workloads, while others have seen income disappear.

However, a range of joint initiatives, which have grown from forward thinking ahead of those initial Government measures, and support for smaller suppliers, is helping to counter that uncertainty and reduce the need for furloughing of many employees in the region.

The company has been working with key supply partners on its investment work – such as water and wastewater network upgrades and maintenance – since before lockdown. As a result, the businesses established a number of working groups to collaborate on issues including ensuring health and safety, as well as general wellbeing, and maintaining productivity and supplies.

Additionally, it has worked with many suppliers, largely small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to shorten payment times, improve cash flow, and provide assurance of future workload volumes. This has allowed those businesses to make informed decisions regarding the retention of active workforce levels.

The company’s investment work, which is mostly delivered by framework partners, has continued to be carried out safely through the pandemic due to its essential nature. However, working together, the companies have introduced various innovative new working methods, such as installing Perspex dividers where single occupancy of vehicles has not been possible to implement.

Tamsin Lishman, Asset Management Director at Northumbrian Water, said: “Covid-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty, not only for businesses, but for those they employ, their families and communities. It’s important to us that, where we can, we help to reduce the stress that comes with this.

“More than 50% of our spend goes to businesses within our operating areas, and we have an ambition to increase that to 60%, so the decisions we take have a big effect on our communities, affecting a lot of people across the region. That’s why it’s important that we tackle the current Covid situation in partnership with our suppliers, helping them to maintain employment levels and plan workloads.

“The businesses on our investment frameworks alone employ more than 1000 people on our projects in our supply areas, so any decision on what work we continue has a big impact on these regions. That’s why we feel it’s vital that not only do we continue our essential work, but that we do so in collaboration with our partners.

“The majority of our work is essential, in order to keep delivering our services to our customers, which is a strong position from which we can continue to support all of our partners and suppliers. Working together, creatively, we have been able to adapt and drive forward on that work in a way that not only keeps people in work and cash flowing, but also protects the safety of our own employees and those within our supply chain.”

James Ramsbotham, Chief Executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “Large companies, such as Northumbrian Water, invariably have a much wider impact upon employment and communities than can ever be judged solely by looking at their own workforce. So, it’s great to see this recognised by the way the business integrates with its supply chain, not least during these extremely challenging times. Work like this truly helps to build successful economies within regions. It’s a fantastic example of collaboration that is making a real difference to thousands of families across the North East.”

Colin Nichol, MMB Design Director and also the Chair of the Maintaining Productivity Group, said: “From the economic uncertainty that Covid-19 has brought to the region, it is hugely encouraging to see Northumbrian Water seizing the initiative to protect jobs and safeguard the futures of our people in the North East.

“This view on maintaining a sustainable workstream for all organisations both now and into the future is even more compelling as Northumbrian Water are allowing their supply chain to lead the working groups. These groups are conceived not only to maintain productivity through the pandemic, but also to shape the future of the delivery of their investment programme in a Post-Covid world using the combined power of a collaborative supply chain and an insightful client and it is fantastic to be a part of such an innovative process.”