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  • by Karma Loveday

Poll shows support for public ownership is half that claimed in 2017

Water UK has challenged the view that nationalisation of water has majority support with its own poll which showed the policy is supported by 42% of adults, rather than the oft-cited 83% from the September 2017 poll for the Legatum Institute.

The research, conducted by ComRes for Water UK in February 2019, also showed 37% of some 2000 adults who were polled online actively opposed renationalisation. Water UK claimed “a substantial fall in public support for water renationalisation” on the back of the figures, noting its new survey is the first to test public opinion since the Labour Party set out its policy in more detail in autumn 2018.

The poll delved specifically into a key plank of Labour’s new model: that the majority of places on the boards of nationalised water companies would be held by local councillors and trade unions. It found only 33% had any confidence in a combination of local councils and trade unions running the water companies. In contrast, about 90% trusted their current wage company to provide reliable service, ensure good water quality and deal responsibly with wastewater. 81% said they trusted their water company to fix water pipe leaks in public areas.

Poll participants were also asked whether they trusted water companies more or less than other industries or organisations. Over three quarters said they trust their water companies more than energy companies (79%), train companies (77%), newspapers (77%), and the government (74%), while 64% said they trusted them more than local councils.

Water UK chief executive, Michael Roberts, said: “The country would risk losing the many improvements made to the water and sewerage service over the last three decades if it was brought into government control, and the big plans the industry has to improve the service even further in the future would be thrown into real doubt. That’s because experience shows that nationalised water services are not at the top of the pile for government spending, and they miss out on funding which goes instead to health, education, pensions and other priorities. It would be a backward step which threatens the environment and puts our water quality at risk.”

CBI director-general, Carolyn Fairbairn, added: “It’s good to see trust in water companies running high, with customers believing they deliver reliability, quality and value for money. And it’s clear that, when given the choice, people trust business to provide a better service than local councils and trades unions. The idea of renationalisation is no free lunch. It is eye-wateringly expensive, and our priority must be stepping up investment in the UK’s infrastructure itself.”

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