Tory minister makes baffling defence of water privatisation

Rebecca Pow's response to Caroline Lucas is extraordinary

Tory minister Rebecca Pow speaking in the House of Commons on water privatisation

Government ministers are scrambling around to try and defend the privatisation of water today in the wake of news that bills are set to rise by 40% and Thames Water is on the brink of collapse. One of the most extraordinary claims was made by junior environment minister Rebecca Pow.

Pow has faced a grilling from MPs after an urgent question in the House of Commons from shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon on the financial resilience of the water industry.

Following McMahon’s question, MPs from different parties lined up to quiz the minister on how the government will tackle the crisis gripping the water sector. Among those to question Pow was Green MP Caroline Lucas.

She said: “Water companies had no debt when they were privatised. Since [then], they have borrowed £53 billion, and much of that has been used to help pay the £72 billion in dividends. Meanwhile, we have this appalling sewage scandal – particularly in the South East of England. We have a failing water company – the Southern Water company – that my constituents have no choice but to rely on and it’s considering raising bills by £279 per year by 2030, largely to pay for the investment that they should have been making in the previous years.

“Doesn’t that just show that the privatisation of water was a serious mistake and it needs to be permanently rectified?”

In an unbelievable response, Pow came back: “What I would say is that privatisation has enabled clean and plentiful water to come out of our taps.”

Readers in Scotland might be particularly surprised to hear the suggestion that without privatisation people in England wouldn’t be able to get clean water from their taps. Scotland’s water, of course, is still in public ownership and bills are cheaper on average than those in England.

Meanwhile, private water companies released raw sewage into rivers and seas in England for more than 1.75 million hours last year. And since privatisation in 1989, water companies have paid out more than £70 billion to shareholders.

Does that sound like a success story?

Watch the full exchange in the House of Commons here:

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

Image credit: Parliament TV

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