Rationality, accounting and benchmarking water businesses: an analysis of measurement challenges Academic Article uri icon


  • Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the sensitivity of economic efficiency rankings of water businesses to the choice of alternative physical and accounting capital input measures. Design/methodology/approach Data envelopment analysis (DEA) was used to compute efficiency rankings for government-owned water businesses from the state of Victoria, Australia, over the period 2005/2006 through 2012/2013. Differences between DEA models when capital inputs were measured using either: statutory accounting values (historic cost and fair value), physical measures, or regulatory accounting values, were scrutinised. Findings Depending on the choice of capital input, significant variation in efficiency scores and the ranking of the top (worst) performing firms was observed. Research limitations/implications Future research may explore the generalisability of findings to a wider sample of water utilities globally. Future work can also consider the most reliable treatment of capital inputs in efficiency analysis. Practical implications Regulators should be cautious when using economic efficiency data in benchmarking exercises. A consistent approach to account for the capital stock is needed in the determination of price caps and designing incentives for poor performers. Originality/value DEA has been widely used to explore the role of ownership structure, firm size and regulation on water utility efficiency. This is the first study of its kind to explore the sensitivity of DEA to alternative physical and accounting capital input measures. This research also improves the conventional performance measurement in water utilities by using a bootstrap procedure to address the deterministic nature of the DEA approach.

publication date

  • 2018