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Sun, 29 March 2020

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Support for water renationalisation has 'nearly halved' in six months, new poll finds

Support for water renationalisation has 'nearly halved' in six months, new poll finds
2 min read

A new poll has found that support for bringing the water sector into public ownership has nearly halved in the last six months.

The ComRes poll, which was commissioned by four major water companies, has found that public backing for renationalisation of the utility dropped from 83% to 42% since last September.

When broken down it showed that only 22% "strongly support" the move, while 20% "somewhat support" it.

The results also show however that just 26% are actively opposed to renationalisation of water, while 21% neither support nor oppose the move.

Last year Labour vowed to "replace our dysfunctional water system with a network of regional publicly-owned water companies".

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said in the run-up to last June's election: “We are concerned with the way privatisation has operated, particularly in the water industry.

“There has been an increase in rates as a result of water privatisation over and above inflation.

“It’s been used, I have to say, for tax avoidance, in some instances. In one year £18bn has been given out as dividends to shareholders.

“All of that could have been used for investment and bringing bills down. We believe this is an industry that should be brought back into public ownership.”

The latest poll of 2,035 adults suggested that water was low on the publics priorities for nationalisation, coming fourth behind rail and energy services.

It comes after cross-party think-tank, the Social Market Foundation, claimed that nationalising water could cost taxpayers up to £90bn.

SMF chief economist Scott Corfe, said: “There is no free lunch on offer here. However it was done, nationalising the water industry would impose significant costs on the state and thus taxpayers.

“Those costs could be paid-up front as the Government paid £90 billion to buy companies at their commercial values. Or they could felt in the wider economy as the Government forced through a sale at below market prices, which would put off other investors.”

Last month Environment Secretary Michael Gove warned water executives that excessive salaries and tax avoidance within the industry could drive support for putting the utility into public ownership.

“Unless we see change, the pressure for renationalisation will only grow. Renationalisation has significant and growing public support”, he said.

Mr Gove urged companies to use their “imagination, tenacity and creativity” to solve the problems facing the sector or “face the consequences”.