The recent public outcry over Conservative MPs voting for the release of raw sewage prompted several very basic questions.
In their defence it was claimed that it’s better to have sewage in rivers than homes – true, but is that a choice we should be forced to make in a civilised society?
Heavy rain, global warming, and our Victorian infrastructure were also blamed.
But heavy rain is not exactly unknown here, and global warming has been a threat for decades. Victoria died 120 years ago, and a decade of Conservative government has failed to produce credible plans for the world-beating infrastructure we deserve.
Is government able or willing to adequately control water companies? After huge public disgust and threats of a Tory rebellion, a tiny, mealy-mouthed U-turn emerged.
Water companies will now be obliged to prove they have reduced the impact of sewage discharges from storm overflows – but only by 2026. Given the significant cuts the Environment Agency has suffered over the last decade, how can these obligations be properly monitored, never mind enforced?
What part have our privatised water companies played in this shocking public health hazard? Is their primary responsibility the wellbeing of the nation, or shareholders’ dividends? £57bn has been paid out in dividends over the past 30 years – £6.5bn since 2016.
Shareholders rightly expect some return, but have those returns been proportionate compared to spending on updating vital infrastructure? Almost three quarters of England’s water industry is currently owned by overseas entities.
So how much interest do these owners have in updating our country’s infrastructure?