CEO of water company fined for pollution is advising government on sustainability

Her firm was fined £1.5m for sewage discharges

Liv Garfield - CEO of private water company Severn Trent

Liv Garfield is CEO of the private water company Severn Trent. She’s best known for being the highest paid boss in the water industry, having received a £3.9 million pay package in 2022.

The company she runs has been one of the water firms whacked with massive fines for polluting England’s waterways. In December 2021, Severn Trent was fined £1.5 million for discharges at four separate sewage treatment works.

Now, it’s been revealed that Garfield has been advising the government on sustainability. openDemocracy has reported that Garfield is the chair of the ‘Council for Sustainable Business’. The body advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on water, waste and biodiversity, with Garfield heading up the council’s work on agriculture and water.

Staggeringly, the aforementioned fine was received by Severn Trent while Garfield was chairing the group advising the government.

The revelations have been slammed by environmental campaigners and politicians.

Labour MP Clive Lewis told openDemocracy that it “was like putting arsonists in charge of a fire safety board”, and said, “When the government takes environmental advice from the very people who are responsible for environmental damage it is clear our political institutions are in a state of deep-rooted system failure.”

openDemocracy also spoke to Ashley Smith, the founder of Windrush Against Sewage Pollution, who said, “Liv Garfield is infamous as one of the highest rewarded CEOs of one of the now notorious water companies that have been shown to pollute as a consequence of underinvesting while creaming off massive dividends. To discover that she is still advising Defra, which recently created a polluter’s charter for water companies in the form of the Environment Act, reveals another piece in a jigsaw that shows who is pulling the government’s strings.”

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, anti-privatisation campaign group We Own It have reiterated their calls for water to be taken into public ownership following the news. We Own It director Cat Hobbs said: “England’s waterways are hugely polluted because water companies refuse to invest in the infrastructure needed to treat sewage. Instead, they choose to pump it into our rivers while making huge profits and paying high salaries to CEOs like Liv Garfield.

“We need to bring water into public ownership so that our water system works for people. This is just common sense. Water is a human need and a natural monopoly. And the public agree: over two-thirds support public ownership of water, including 68% of Conservative voters. “

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “The appointment of the Chair and members of the Council for Sustainable Business are agreed by the Environment Secretary at the time.”

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Cambridge Union – YouTube screengrab

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