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Water UK defends sector as GMB launches nationalisation campaign

Water UK has warned a renationalised water sector could suffer from a lack of investment as GMB launched its 'Take Back the Tap' campaign to take the industry back into public ownership.

Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said it is 'far from obvious' a nationalised sector would be a priority for ministersWater UK chief executive Michael Roberts said it is 'far from obvious' a nationalised sector would be a priority for ministers

The trade union has released details from its joint investigation with Corporate Watch into water company accounts showing that nine privatised water company bosses received £58 million in salary, bonuses, pensions and other benefits over the past five years.

It also showed that the bosses of England’s privatised water and sewerage companies together received £11.3 million in 2017 alone.

GMB said the average pay including salary, bonuses, pensions and other benefits totalled £1,254,000 last year – a figure that is six times higher than the pay and pension of the UK Prime Minister – and highlighted the National Audit Office report showing that consumer water bills in England and Wales have increased by 40 per cent above inflation since privatisation in 1989.

GMB general secretary Tim Roache said: “It is a national scandal over the last five years England’s hard-pressed water customers have been forced to splash out £58 million through their bills to go into the pockets of just nine individuals.

“Privatisation of the water industry has been a costly mistake and these eye-watering sums are further proof the water industry must be returned to public hands."

Labour has vowed to return the industry to public ownership if it gains power, and Roache used the party's 'for the many, not the few' slogan as he tried to rally support for GMB's campaign.

“GMB is urging people and politicians to Take Back the Tap and make our water services work for the many and not the few," he said. “Water is the most natural monopoly and should be in public hands.”

However, Water UK, which represents the water companies, emphasised the progress that has been made since 1989 and warned that if it were to be renationalised there was a risk that investment might be cut to balance the books.

“Water companies have invested around £150 billion on improvements and infrastructure in the last 30 years, and continue to spend £8 billion a year to keep on improving," Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said.

"Thanks to this large investment, we’ve seen leakage reduced, drinking water quality improved, a better environment, and bills are roughly where they were 20 years ago – about £1 a day – and people need to ask themselves whether a water industry owned and run by the government would invest the same money and deliver the same good results for customers.

"Since privatisation, customers are five times less likely to suffer from supply interruptions, eight times less likely to suffer from sewer flooding, and 100 times less likely to have low water pressure.

"If the water industry was owned and run by the government in England, it is far from obvious that it would be a priority for ministers, given the pressures they face to spend on areas like health and education.”

Author: Robin Hackett, Deputy Editor, WWT and WET News
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: water companies , politicians , water bills , Water UK , renationalisation , nationalisation

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