Water privatisation: a dirty story about profitJuly 12, 2021
Readers give their views on action to be taken following a privatised water company being fined for dumping sewage into the sea
Last modified on Mon 12 Jul 2021 12.40 EDT
Your stories on water pollution (Southern Water fined record £90m for deliberately pouring sewage into sea, 9 July) and Phillip Inman’s analysis (England’s water system: the last of the privatised monopolies – for now, 9 July) clearly show how stupid and disastrous the Tory privatisation of our water supply system was, and the fact that these companies have run up massive debts shows how private enterprise works. They are great at finding a hundred different shirt colours, but useless at running utilities. They exist to make profits, not provide vital public services.
And I believe something else you have reported on frequently – fatbergs – are another side effect of their activities. I haven’t used a chip pan for decades, and most businesses are reasonably responsible about their waste, so I assume cutting maintenance to the minimum has led to this problem.
Privatising natural monopolies is stupid. The energy sector is also full of stupidities. We now have dozens of private companies, all with shareholders and managers to keep happy, making profits from our needs. But perhaps the most glaringly stupid result is that some of the companies running these services are foreign governments’ own internal monopolies, such as Électricité de France (EDF) and Abellio, a subsidiary of the Dutch national railway company that is making profits from our disintegrating rail system.
In their thinking about future key issues, the Labour party should put water management near the top of the list – flooding, wastewater treatment and fresh-water supply. It is time to end the fragmented profit-driven private ownership of water supply and wastewater treatment. It is shameful to see the continual pollution of rivers, lakes and sea with raw sewage – urban and agricultural runoff. Why should we tolerate this? Natural water can and should be in pristine condition.
Global climate change will exacerbate existing problems in each of these areas. Flooding can only become more frequent and severe. Building houses in flood-sensitive areas must stop, and a national strategy developed to reduce the probability of flooding where possible, with assistance for people affected by flooding where it is not.
Southern Water’s pollution of coastal waters should see the dismissal, debarment and either the fining or jailing (or both) of its directors. I suspect that none of the above will happen. Southern Water has always made plenty of money for its shareholders, and there is no greater calling or achievement in the guidebook to success. The whole notion of what a water utility is for has been thoroughly polluted by the values of “business”.
As a regular kayaker on Beaulieu, I was disgusted to read of Southern Water’s criminal activities. However, fining a company should only be the start of the action taking place against them. Decision-makers in the company who frequently ignored the Environment Agency need to be imprisoned, and the utility companies need to be taken back into public ownership. Taking the piss is one thing, pouring it straight back – untreated – into our rivers is quite another.
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