The Flow of Turds and Money

Posted on August 23, 2022

There are lots of stories going around at the moment regarding water companies. Some are true, whilst some need to be fact checked. This is because some anti-UK government individuals (like me) can get carried away and not let the whole truth get in the way of a good story.

The Environment Bill

It’s important, I think, not to inadvertently spread false information about what amendments were in the environment bill. What we do know is that the UK government put in an amendment with regards to water companies in the 2021 Environment Bill. This being “a plan to look how to reduce discharge into rivers when sewage systems are at capacity”. 

That seems a bit of a flaky response to something so serious. The Duke of Wellington thought so to. He put forward a further amendment asking for water companies to, “demonstrate improvements in the sewerage systems and progressive reductions in the harm caused by untreated sewage discharges.”

Legislation Ping Pong

This kicked off a game of legislation ping pong, with the Wellington Amendment getting passed in the House of Lords before being passed back to parliament. Reading it, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable amendment. It is also important to remember that the Wellington Amendment was about reduction of discharge, not elimination.

The amendment got rejected by 266 to 204. Presumably due to lots of government lobbying by water companies regarding the cost of being progressive. There can be no other reason to vote down a sensible amendment. If there is, I am all ears. I am just being honest in not understanding why else this bill would be rejected.

Wellington’s amendment did make an impact though, and after negative media coverage, on 26th October 2021, it was announced by DEFRA that the government would now be proposing an amendment “very similar” to the one it had rejected from the Duke of Wellington. This would create a “duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.”

New Relationship With EU

There is another aspect to this. In recent weeks it has been claimed that the government has allowed water companies to discharge sewage into rivers due to Brexit disrupting supply chains. Water companies are required to have permits that control the effluent they discharge into surface or groundwater. However, they may not be able to comply with these conditions due to, amongst other things, “the UK’s new relationship with the EU” (Notice how they avoid saying Brexit).

Importantly, the EA (Environment Agency) says that if companies have run out of supplies, “The Environment Agency will not normally take action against you”. They addthat water companies must get written agreement from the EA to pump out untreated sewage. Where it gets confusing is whether the EA (which is sponsored by DEFRA) acts independently when reporting to the government. I don’t know for certain but the EA sure were angry at Southern Water.

Southern Water

Recent figures show that Southern Water have been making several hundred million in profits. This whilst paying their CEO over £1 Million for overseeing criminal offences involving thousands of illegal sewage dumping’s. This resulted in £90 million worth of fines, but Southern Water don’t care.

For Southern Water, fines are an overhead. They still make a fortune out of the public for not being fit for purpose because the public need to drink water. The Environment Agency said there were 62 ‘serious’ incidents of pollution last year alone. They believe this proves that bosses are “undeterred” by the penalties being issued by the courts and that the board of directors at Southern Water should be in jail.

The Result of Privatisation

It gets worse. We now pay more than 40% extra for our water than we did when Thatcher privatised it in 1989. The companies that took over public water for free, are now saddled with a debt of 50 billion, which in effect financed dividends of the same amount. The interest (met by the consumer) is £2.2 billion. It’s been one massive con.

The private water industry is leaking water, sewage, and billions of pounds of public money. To take it back into public hands would cost £14.5 billion in compensation pay outs. However, without paying out dividends and fines, public ownership would save around £2 billion a year, so it would be worthwhile. Nearly as worthwhile as pursuing those who stole our money and sending them to jail.  

There is no justification for a public utility like water to be private. We should pay to have it and the money we pay used not for directors’ dividends but infrastructure upgrades. People should never be making millions in bonuses out of water supply. If we don’t stop it, it will be worse still when we no longer need to apply strict EU standards on quality.

Privatisation was a brainless idea in 1989 and it is still a brainless idea in 2022.  

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