The Water Report joins experts in BBC analysis of water nationalisation

THE WATER REPORT editor Karma Loveday has called on advocates of public ownership of the water sector to provide evidence for their proposal to put the debate on a sound footing. And regulatory expert, Dieter Helm, insisted, "The ownership issue is not the big question; the big question is the regulatory one.”

Both were speaking along with other water experts on an edition of David Aaronovitch's BBC's Radio 4 programme The Briefing Room, looking at Labour's proposals for a publicly owned water industry.

Helm said nationalisation was fundamentally straightforward for a government to do and even played down the costs saying the oft quoted £90 bn figure was "pretty close to absurd.” But he questioned the need to nationalise to achieve Labour's aims: “Its perfectly possible to regulate these companies in a way that makes them pursue the public interest," he said. The chief concerns about privatised utilities he said were "down to a failure of regulation to define the public interest and make sure that public interest is properly inculcated in the boardrooms.”

Loveday said: "It’s healthy to question the model, but to assume that public ownership is the right answer – which I consider to be an ideologically driven conclusion – is too risky."

Partner at Law firm, Clifford Chance, Dan Needle highlighted the legal and financial complexities that nationalisation would bring and warned that overseas owners could have strong legal grounds for "prompt compensation at market rates." Senior lecturer in Law specialising in water and environmental issues at Dundee, Sarah Hendry, held up the Scottish model as making a compelling case for public ownership.

The full podcast of the BBC programme is HERE

These and related issues will be discussed at THE WATER REPORT and Indepen's Defining the Social Contract Summit on 6 November.