Water UK’s chief executive Michael Roberts last week defended the record of England’s privatised water companies and painted a picture of a precarious future should the sector return to public hands at an event organised jointly by Water UK and New Statesman magazine.
“Nothing we have heard so far on the proposals for nationalisation In England give any clue about how the environment would be protected, how water quality would be maintained and improved, how leakage would be cut or how the big challenges of climate change and population growth on the future supply of water would be dealt with. Instead of building on nearly 30 years of improvements, made possible by bringing in billions of pounds of private investment to undo the problems created by nationalisation, there’s a real danger that we go backwards to a world where decisions are driven by political short-termism rather than the needs of customers and the environment.
“Putting water back in the same constrained public sector funding pot as health, education, housing, defence, transport, policing and the rest would relegate water companies to taking part in an annual competition for the Chancellor’s support, hoping they would somehow be higher up the list of priorities for taxpayers’ cash than other issues which might be more attractive to Ministers. It’s what happened before when companies in England were publicly-owned and it’s an issue today in Northern Ireland where, due to current public expenditure constraints, there’s a big gap between the money Northern Ireland Water needs for vital new water mains and upgraded wastewater treatment plants, and the money they get from government.
The bottom line is that water companies, private or public sector, need the confidence that they will be adequately funded. There is a fundamental risk that nationalising the water industry in England would potentially cause far greater problems than any it is supposed to solve.”