“Instead of profiteering at the expense of our natural environment, it’s time we took the water companies into public ownership – driving down the cost of bills and using the money not to line the pockets of shareholders, but create a water system that’s fit for the 21st century”Sam Browse
By Sam Browse, Labour Assembly Against Austerity
This week, beaches on the south coast are closed because Southern Water is pumping untreated waste water – including sewage – into the sea at the shoreline.
This latest dumping follows an unprecedented £90 million fine for the water company for releasing sewage last year.
Southern Water is not the only guilty water company. The Telegraph found that all the companies combined were releasing sewage more than 1,000 times a day, discharging into rivers and coastal areas for more than 3.1 million hours on more than 400,000 occasions throughout 2020.
It’s little wonder that none of our rivers meet good chemical standards and only 14% meet good ecological standards. We have the worst river quality in the whole of Europe.
Last year, after voting against tougher rules on dumping, the Tories were dragged kicking and screaming into taking any action at all to curb the environmental damage to our seas and rivers – promising only to produce a strategy for reducing the discharges. The strategy has now been shelved.
To make matters worse, water bosses have now claimed a combined £24.8 million in bonuses – up by 20% – despite the failure to clamp down on the sewage discharges. The bonuses are a symbol of the rot at the core of the way our water system is managed.
Many of the recent discharges are wholly illegal, but dumping is actually built into the way the system works. Our water infrastructure is practically Victorian. When the system becomes overloaded, due to heavy rainfall and use, the excess is released via storm overflows into waterways and the ocean.
But rather than invest in that infrastructure to improve it, private companies have hived-off money to shareholders. The numbers speak for themselves: since 1991, they have made £57bn in profits, and racked up £50bn of debt. The primary focus hasn’t been upgrading and improving the tired, leaking system – that loses 2923.8 million litres of water per day – but fattening the pockets of shareholders.
No wonder the Tories have been so reluctant to take on the water companies. It’s the same story as the energy sector, transport, mail, their back door privatisation of the NHS and countless other public services – what matters isn’t providing the service, but segmenting off vital infrastructure and public assets for use as a cash cow by private interests.
The privatisation of water has been a disaster. Instead of profiteering at the expense of our natural environment, it’s time we took the water companies into public ownership – driving down the cost of bills and using the money not to line the pockets of shareholders, but create a water system that’s fit for the 21st century. As the bosses fill their pockets to bursting while our seas and rivers run dark with dirt and pollution, the case for nationalisation is undeniable. Now is the time to make it.