I believe we should replace our dysfunctional water system with a network of regional, publicly-owned water companies.
The privatisation of water has not worked to deliver the benefits that were originally claimed. The focus of water provision should be on protecting the environment, keeping bills down and fighting climate change, but instead the raison d’être of water companies is returning dividends to their shareholders.
This has left customers paying high prices for worse services. For example, the National Audit Office found that water bills increased by 40% in the 25 years following privatisation. The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, meanwhile, has found that three billion litres of water are leaked every day. At the same time, English water companies paid over £18 billion in dividends to shareholders in the decade up to 2016.
The Government argues that private ownership is the best way for the water industry to meet the needs of customers and the environment. However, as a report from the Public Services International Research Unit has shown, England’s nine water companies would have been able to finance their capital investment without taking on any debt. Instead, since privatisation, they have taken on £51 billion of debt, driven primarily by dividend payments to shareholders.
We cannot afford not to take water back into public ownership. A network of regional, publicly-owned water companies run by local councils, workers and customers would deliver a modern and transparent water system.
In public hands, the new water companies would be able to reinvest any surplus, or use it to reduce bills, rather than pay it out in dividends, executive salaries or excessive interest payments. Such a water system could stop trillions of litres being lost through leakages, operate with the highest environmental standards and ensure that everyone has ready access to clean water without paying excessive bills.
I am proud to say that bringing water back into public ownership is an Opposition policy and was included in the 2017 manifesto that I was elected on.
I have written to the Minister of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Thérèse Coffey, and asked her to start working on bringing water back into public ownership. I have posted the letter below for you to see.