Monday 10 April 2023

Water privatisation has failed the UK - Our rivers are full of $h1t!


When the Conservatives privatised water back in the 1980's, the argument was that this was necessary to generate the investment needed to bring the quality of the network up to a suitable standard for the 21st century. Various governments, both Tory and Labour had cut investment and it was true that the UK's water system was in a dilapidated state. The argument was that private companies access to capital and innovation would lead to a rapid upgrade of our water supplies and sewage networks. 

Here we are, nearly 40 years later and the system is in a worse state than ever. In 2022 there were more than 300,000 sewage spills into UK rivers and coastal areas. The argument that the water companies use is that this happens when there is exceptionally heavy rainfall. It cannot possibly be argued that if it is happening 300,000 times a year, it is due to upredictable or unusually heavy rain. The way this is prevented is well known. It also happens to be expensive. The sewage runs off because there is a lack of storage capacity for it. As soon as there is any heavy rain, plants are inundated and the sluice gates are opened. To prevent this, water companies need to invest serious money in sewage storage systems, that can hold the sewage, until it can be treated. This is a huge amount of sewage to be temporarily stored and the investment needed is massive. Companies make far more money, simply pumping the sewage into the natural water environment. 

There are also many issues with home owners doing bodged work that direct sewage into waterways, to cut the cost of proper drainage being installed. The water companies are meant to police this, but again are failing.

In both cases, the remedy is simple. The answer is to properly regulate and fine companies that are failing to protect waterways and habitats. Privatisation has produced huge cash generating monoliths that do not serve the UK or its population and are failing to meet their mission on every measurable goal. I suspect that one of the reasons that these companies are not properly regulated is because they would no longer generate the cash for their shareholders if they were. Rather like private rail companies, when they are forced to do the job properly, they don't make the cash and hand back the keys.

The UK need to decide whether our interests are best served by lining the pockets of shareholders or by having a clean, safe natural environment. I know which one I would want.

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