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Water - exporting UK skills globally

The UK must learn to export its skills in water maintenance and management according to the Director of Research and Innovation at the UK Water Partnership.

Tony Rachwal says the UK has underestimated the value of its expertise in this area and must extend its selling of these services abroad.

He has also called for more applied research to be carried out in the water industry:

' We are very good at early stage research but the problem is taking it beyond the research lab prototypes to commercial success. This is partly because the water sector is not a strategic industry sector for the UK government. Rather it is seen as an environment issue and not as an industry trade sector.

' Water is vital for cities and for economic and business growth. It is important to get water onto the industry strategy because the global market for water industries is approximately 1 trillion pounds. However, in the UK this is not seen as a global business opportunity. Through consultancies like Arup, Atkins and Mott MacDonald we are skilled at exporting water consultancy but we need to do more to help our experts achieve larger global share of this significant market.

' Unlike the headline concerns of cancer, 'water' isn't seen in the same way so research funding isn't there. The proportion of the 3.5 billion UK research pot for water is about £100 million. We now have an ageing water infrastructure with underground pipes about 150 years old. We are very good at finding buried networks and working out how to repair them at low cost. As other global cities age, they will need this expertise. Research is being carried out on developing key hole surgery to work on buried pipe problems when there is no traffic around.

Another area is robotics. Robots can be sent down pipes to look at and repair problems underground. Universities have been working on scanning and robot technology. Professor Chris Rogers at Birmingham University recently received 10 million pound funding for mapping and assessing 'the underworld'. Tony states that this is excellent research work and needs proper recognition.

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