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This week, Boris Johnson’s Tories tried to block a move by the House of Lords which would have compelled water companies to do far more to treat the staggering 450,000 tonnes of sewage that they currently dump into our rivers and coastlines each year.
The idea that any government would brazenly block efforts to make our waterways cleaner rightly drew huge condemnation – but much of the public are also, understandably, entirely perplexed at the decision.
Whilst the Tories’ choice to allow water companies to carry on dumping sewage into our rivers and coastlines may seem inexplicable at first, there is an explanation – and it’s one that should give us both pause for thought and appetite for change.
Privatisation puts profit before people
Firstly, treating raw sewage costs money. And, with private water companies putting the interests of shareholders above all else, they routinely exploit whatever loopholes they can find in order to maximise their profits.
Currently, water companies are only supposed to dump raw sewage into waterways in exceptional circumstances – such as extreme rainfall that could risk backing up the system into peoples’ homes.
However, the current legislation is very flimsy – and water companies simply flout the rules, safe in the knowledge that they’ll only end up being handed measly fines which cost them far less than actually treating the waste in the first place.
When the Tories privatised our waterways a generation ago, they gradually fell into the hands of overseas corporations. And today, 70% of our water system is controlled by foreign firms, including:
- A Malaysian Corporation
- A Hong Kong firm based in the Cayman Islands
- Three US Hedge Funds, a US Equity Investment firm and a US Investment Bank
- A German Asset Management Firm
- An Australian Global Asset Corporation
- Asset management corporations based in the UAE, Kuwait & China
And, much closer to home, let’s look at the area where I live – Hemsworth in West Yorkshire.
The water company in my area is also based offshore, and they pay their CEO nearly a million pounds a year. On average, their shareholders pocket around £80m a year, despite wasting nearly 300m litres of water daily and being fined £150,000 for dumping sewage in our seas.
To put it bluntly, private water corporations are only in it for themselves. They pollute our waters, levy heavy charges on taxpayers, and then they simply move their profits abroad.
The public is being totally ripped off, and our environment is being ruined – all whilst the shareholders of private water companies laugh all the way to the bank.
Public ownership puts people first
It is clear to me that now is the time to end this charade. Our water system should be run in the interest of people – not profit. Public ownership is the answer.
And this goes for all of our essential utilities, too.
Water, Rail, Energy & Mail are all national assets and natural monopolies. They are yours, and they should be run in the interest of everyone – not simply to line the pockets of wealthy shareholders.
When the Tories privatised our utilities, they stole them from the people and handed them to profit makers.
But now it is time for us to truly take back control – to reclaim what is rightfully ours, and to finally return sanity back to the system.
Jon Trickett is the Labour MP for Hemsworth.