This paper addresses public participation in debates over service quality in the water sector in England and Wales. It is argued that just at the moment when the British Government claims to be interested in getting stakeholders to participate in policy debates there are important questions arising about the future of the UK water industry in relation to commercial restructuring and increasing competition. The paper looks at two strategies for fostering public participation. First, it analyzes the structures established in 1989 and reformed in 2002 to represent consumers within the regulatory framework. It is argued that, as the institutions of consumer regulation have evolved, they have adopted fairly traditional strategies for influencing the Government's policy decisions that do not really accord to current theoretical models of stakeholder participation. Second, it analyzes the public consultation exercises run by the Water Services Regulator Ofwat (The Office of Water Services). The conclusions are based on a study of 35 recent consultation exercises carried out by Ofwat. The study analyzed 1250 responses to see which stakeholders were participating in consultation and then used questionnaires to identify how they perceived the consultation process. Most stakeholders were skeptical about the impact of consultation on Ofwat policy. Instead they regarded consultation as one strategy amongst the many which they used to try and steer policy in their own interest.

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