Direct references to water are scant in most of the the election manifestos published so far. Here is an at-a-glance summary of who has said what on issues that touch the sector.
Corporate ownership and governance
Brexit, agriculture and the environment
Infrastructure and skills
CORPORATE OWNERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE
Mergers and acquisitions
The party said: “We welcome overseas investment and want investors to succeed here but not when success is driven by aggressive asset-stripping or tax avoidance.” It plans to update M&A rules to require bidders to be clear about their intentions from the outset of the bid process; that all promises and undertakings made in the course of takeover bids can be legally enforced afterwards; and that the government can require a bid to be paused to allow greater scrutiny. In terms of critical national infrastructure, the Conservatives said they will “ensure that foreign ownership of companies controlling important infrastructure does not undermine British security or essential services.”
Boards should take account of the interests not just of shareholders but employees, suppliers and the wider community. “To ensure employees’ interests are represented at board level, we will change the law to ensure that listed companies will be required either to nominate a director from the workforce, create a formal employee advisory council or assign specific responsibility for employee representation to a designated non-executive director. Subject to sensible safeguards, we will introduce, for employees, a right to request information relating to the future direction of the company.”
The next Conservative government will legislate to make executive pay packages subject to strict annual votes by shareholders and listed companies will have to publish the ratio of executive pay to broader UK workforce pay. Companies will have to explain their pay policies, particularly complex incentive schemes, better. We will commission an examination of the use of share buybacks, with a view to ensuring these cannot be used artificially to hit performance targets and inflate executive pay.
Pledges to “Replace our dysfunctional water system with a network of regional publicly-owned water companies.” The perceived dysfuntionality relates primarily to dividend payments and inequality between customers and shareholders: “Many basic goods and services have been taken out of democratic control through privatisation. This has often led to higher prices and poorer quality, as prices are raised to pay out dividends. For example, water bills have increased 40% since privatisation.”
There is no reference in the manifesto to the situation of Welsh Water, whose customers are effectively its shareholders. But in a statement the Labour Party said: "By placing England's water system back into public control, Labour will reduce household bills, and increase investment, transparency, and accountability in our water system."
Welsh Water told THE WATER REPORT that it had had confirmation from Labour that its nationalisation proposal "didn’t apply to Wales/Welsh Water."
The water renationalisation pledge is part of wider package aimed at “widening ownership of the economy”, which includes taking elements of the rail, energy and mail sectors back under public control.
Labour will “consult on bringing forward appropriate legislation within this Parliament” to amend company law so that directors owe a duty directly not only shareholders, but to employees, customers, the environment and the wider public.
Mergers and acquisitions
Labour will amend the takeover regime to ensure that businesses identified as being ‘systemically important’ have a clear plan in place to protect workers and pensioners when a company is taken over.
Labour will also legislate to reduce pay inequality by introducing an Excessive Pay Levy on companies with staff on very high pay.
BREXIT AGRICULTURE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
EU environmental standards
Via a Great Repeal Bill, EU law will be converted into UK law. “This approach means that the rights of workers and protections given to consumers and the environment by EU law will continue to be available in UK law at the point at which we leave the EU.” There are no guarantees of keeping these environmental standards for the longer term: “Once EU law has been converted into domestic law, parliament will be able to pass legislation to amend, repeal or improve any piece of EU law it chooses, as will the devolved legislatures, where they have the power to do so.”
The party reiterated its pledge to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited it. It also reiterated a commitment to its long awaited 25 Year Environment Plan “that will chart how we will improve our environment as we leave the European Union and take control of our environmental legislation again”.
Agri-environment – It committed the same cash total in funds for farm support until the end of the parliament. Beyond that: “We will work with farmers, food producers and environmental experts across Britain and with the devolved administrations to devise a new agri-environment system, to be introduced in the following parliament.”
Flooding – “We will deliver on our commitment to improve natural flood management, such as improving the quality of water courses to protect against soil erosion and damage to vulnerable habitats and communities.”
EU environmental standards
Labour plans to drop the Conservatives’ Great Repeal Bill, replacing it with an EU Rights and Protections Bill “that will ensure there is no detrimental change to workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections as a result of Brexit.” It said these rights will be fully protected “without qualifications, limitations or sunset clauses…A Labour approach to Brexit will ensure there can be no rolling back of key rights and protections and that the UK does not lag behind Europe in workplace protections and environmental standards in future.”
Environmental protection – On top of the general commitment to keep up the green pace, there is a specific commitment to safeguard habitats and species in the ‘blue belts’ of the seas and oceans surrounding the country.
EU environmental standards
The pro-EU Lib-Dems plan to hold a second referendum to give the people the choice to vote for the exit deal Britain negotiates with the EU over the next two years, with the alternative option of staying in the EU on the ballot paper. Assuming departure progresses, the party plans to fight a hard Brexit. It has committed to a long term alignment with European environment and climate change policy, promising to “ensure that everything is done to maintain those high standards in UK law, including the closest possible co-operation on climate and energy policy.”
The Lib-Dems will continue their long campaign to reform agricultural subsidies, “rebalancing away from direct subsidy and refocusing support towards the public benefits that come from effective land management including countryside protection, flood prevention, food production and climate-change mitigation”.
Environmental protection – In the only overt reference to water quality for its own sake in the manifesto collection published so far, the party committed to “protect and restore England’s lakes, rivers and wetlands, including through reform of water management and higher water-efficiency standards, and establish a ‘blue belt’ of protected marine areas”. It also promised a Nature Act to put the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing; set legally binding natural capital targets, including on biodiversity, clean air and water; and empower the NCC to recommend actions to meet these targets.
Establishment of a £2 billion flood-prevention fund focused on providing support for small community and council-led schemes to reduce upstream flooding, and the knock-on effects in downstream and coastal areas, in addition to improving flood defences, and introducing high standards for flood resilience for buildings and infrastructure in flood-risk areas.
Plaid Cymru said it would fight to ensure every penny of European funding (which accounts for 80% of Welsh farm incomes) is replaced by the UK government.
Environmental protection – the party plans to update and consolidate Welsh wildlife legislation via a new Wildlife Act for Wales.
EU environmental standards
Staunch remainer, The Green Party, promises a referendum on the detail of whatever deal is negotiated for Brexit, with the option to reject the deal and remain in the EU. It will fight to put environmental protection at the heart of any future trade deals and “ensure that existing environmental laws are retained or enhanced, no matter our future relationship with the European Union. We will ensure that important principles – such as the Precautionary and Polluter-Pays principles – are transposed into UK statute books.”
The Greens value the environment as the heart of the economy and society. They promise an Environmental Protection Act to guarantee strong protections for the natural environment and oceans and to include a 25 year target for biodiversity, water and air quality. They plan to create a new environmental regulator and court to effectively monitor and enforce environmental law, including new statutory requirements for updates to (and debates in) Parliament on the state of nature and biodiversity. In addition the Party would implement a Blue New Deal to regenerate coastal communities “harnessing the potential of our seas whilst protecting the marine environment”, and as part of a circular economy initiative (with particular focus on curtailing plastic bottle pollution), provide for free public water dispensers and a community refill scheme.
The Green Party intended to create more sustainable farming and land-use policies that are focussed on restoring the UK’s natural environment. Public funding for the rural economy will be refocused towards restoring biodiversity, sustainable land management and farming, improving animal welfare, and tackling climate change.
Flooding – The Green manifesto promises to “invest in a climate-proof future – for example, by building flood defences, investing in natural flood management, including restoring uplands, to make every community safe.”
EU environmental standards
The SNP sees Brexit as a threat to environment protection. It pledges that “SNP MPs will hold the Tories to account to ensure that the rights and protections currently safeguarded by EU membership are not diminished after the UK leaves.” As part of a desired review of the existing devolution arrangements, the party’s manifesto says SNP MPs will seek additional powers including those “that will be repatriated from Brussels to the UK that currently sit within the competences of the Scottish Parliament, like agriculture, fisheries and environmental protection”. The manifesto adds: “We are determined to safeguard the advances which have already been made, while continuing to protect and enhance our environment in the years ahead.”
The UK government rejected the Scottish Government’s proposals for Scotland to remain in the Single Market as the UK leaves the EU. The SNP argues being taken out of the Single Market “poses a real and present danger” to some 80,000 jobs including those of Scottish farmers and fishermen. If it wins in Scotland, the party says it will have a mandate to “demand a place for Scotland at the Brexit negotiating table and the inclusion of the case for our place in the Single Market in the UK’s negotiating remit.”
At any rate, the Party vows to “fight off a Tory power and money grab” as agricultural funding outside of the EU is settled. It explains: “Before the EU Referendum, the UK government promised to match current EU funding, which is worth half a billion pounds every year to Scotland’s rural and remote communities, “without a shadow of a doubt”. Now they refuse to provide any guarantees over funding beyond Brexit, and want a UK wide funding mechanism. With a 16 per cent share of current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding, there is no doubt that Scotland would lose out. Just as we will expect all powers over agriculture and rural policy to be repatriated to Scotland, there should be no question that we should have full control of EU agricultural funding following Brexit.”
"We will continue to regulate more efficiently, saving £9 billion through the Red Tape Challenge and the One-In-Two-Out Rule.”
“The wrong regulatory frameworks can over-reward investors for the risk they are taking in backing a particular project, meaning households and businesses can become systematically overcharged. We will therefore examine ways in which the regulation of utilities and transport infrastructure can be improved to deliver a better deal for customers and sharper incentives for investment efficiency.”
Of interest to water in light of non household market opening and the prospect of household competition in future. The Conservatives take an interventionist line on markets. The party said markets should work for consumers as well as producers and that “As Conservatives, we believe in markets as the best means to bring about prosperity and innovation, but we should act firmly and fast when a market works against the interests of consumers.”
It pledged the following: “A Conservative government will strengthen the hand of regulators. We will strengthen the powers of consumer enforcement bodies to order fines against companies breaking consumer law and deliver redress for wronged parties. We will explore how to give consumers a voice in the regulation of business. We will put the interest of vulnerable consumers first, including considering a duty on regulators to weigh up their needs. We will investigate how switching sites can better serve competition, including by providing shoppers with information about quality of service and complaints. We will strengthen the hand of online consumers. We will act to make terms and conditions clearer.” It also pinpointed initiatives for specific markets, including a “safeguard tariff cap” in energy for those who do not switch away from the poorest value standard variable tariffs.
“We will continue to regulate more efficiently, saving £9 billion through the Red Tape Challenge and the One-In-Two-Out Rule.”
INFRASTRUCTURE AND SKILLS
The backbone of the Conservative policy on infrastructure was published a few months ago in the government’s Industrial Strategy. The manifesto pointed to a £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund, targeted at “areas that are critical for productivity: housing, research and development, economic infrastructure and skills. This will include £740 million of digital infrastructure investment, the largest investment in railways since Victorian times, £1.1 billion to improve local transport and £250 million in skills by the end of 2020. The National Productivity Investment Fund will take total spending on housing, economic infrastructure and R&D to £170 billion during the next parliament.”
Labour pledged to “take advantage of near- record low interest rates to create a National Transformation Fund that will invest £250 billion over ten years in upgrading our economy.” Its focus areas were broadband, energy and transport (HS2 and Crossrail especially). It added its plans for a National Education Service for England would address skills issues.