Thames Water under fire as leaks hit highest level for five years

Campaigners have called for water to be taken into public ownership

Water coming out of a tap

Private water firm Thames Water is under fire once again after revelations that the rate of leaks from its pipes are at the highest level for five years. The news has sparked renewed calls for the three decade long privatisation experiment to be brought to an end.

Letters between the CEO of Thames Water Sarah Bentley and environment minister Rebecca Pow have been released under freedom of information laws and have revealed the scale of the company’s leakage problem.

According to the Guardian, Bentley told Pow: “Right now, we have the highest leakage rate since 2018. Consequently, we have already signalled to Ofwat that we are behind on our 2022/23 leakage performance and our target this year will now be very challenging to achieve.”

These revelations have been met with outrage by campaigners. Anti-privatisation group We Own It has reiterated their call for the water sector to be taken into public ownership.

Matthew Topham, Lead Campaigner at We Own It, told Left Foot Forward: “With leaks getting worse instead of better, regulation clearly isn’t working. But on top of this, billions of pounds are leaking out to shareholders in dividends each year that could be invested in our infrastructure.

“If we want to bring our water system into the 21st century, we need to plug the leak and bring water into public ownership.”

Presently, problems with infrastructure managed by private water companies leads to between two and three billion litres of water leaking out of the system every single day. In 2022, the trade union GMB calculated that the amount of water that leaked out of Thames Water’s infrastructure each day was the equivalent of running a hosepipe for more than 73 years.

Private water companies have been under increasing scrutiny in recent months as a result of the sewage pollution scandal. These companies operate a network of thousands of sewer overflows which they use to discharge raw sewage into Britain’s rivers and seas. Last year, private water companies released raw sewage into rivers and seas in England for more than 1.75 million hours, with an average of 825 sewage spills per day.

In addition to legally permitted discharges, Thames Water has also faced hefty fines for water pollution. Between 2017 and 2021, the company accrued £32.4 million in fines over 11 separate incidents of water pollution.

Since privatisation in 1989, water companies have paid out more than £70 billion to shareholders.

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

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