Demands for public ownership as water bills set to rise above inflation

Average bills are expected to rise by 6% from April

Water coming out of a tap

Water bills in England and Wales are expected to rise by 6% on average from April. That amounts to a rise above the rate of inflation.

The increase will see the average bill increase by £27 to £473.

Water UK – the water industry trade body – has said that the increase comes at a time when there will be ‘record levels of investment’ from the water firms.

However, the sector has long been criticised for failing to prioritise investment in infrastructure which campaigners argue has contributed to the ongoing sewage scandal and leaks in the system.

The news that bills will be going up has led to renewed calls for water to be taken into public ownership.

Matthew Topham, lead campaigner at anti-privatisation group We Own It, told Left Foot Forward: “As England’s privatised providers, like Thames Water, circle the drain, these hikes are an attempt to make the public plug the gaps.

“This is a problem entirely of privatisation’s making: shareholders built an unstable debt reservoir of over £60bn — the only reservoir built since they took over — while paying out over £72 billion in dividends funded by our bills.

“Water should never have been treated as a get rich quick scheme. We believe it’s time to join the rest of the international community and being this essential service into public ownership.”

Since England’s water companies were privatised in 1989, £72 billion has been paid by the firms to their shareholders. In real terms, water bills have increased by 40% over that period.

Scotland’s water wasn’t privatised alongside the English water firms. The publicly owned Scottish Water invested 35% more than the English water companies between 2002 and 2018.

Water bills in Scotland will increase by a higher rate of 8.8% from April.

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

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