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We must force water firms to put the environment before profits

(Alamy)

4 min read

Without a doubt, people up and down the country are fed up with their water companies.

Whether they are pumping sewage into our beautiful lakes and rivers, awarding huge bonuses to executives without just cause, or treading the line of bankruptcy, they are all failing at their primary purpose: to protect our waterways, environment and provide clean water to the population. 

They are, overwhelmingly, working only to satisfy their greed.  

We know that renationalising is not the answer

In Cumbria, this issue runs particularly deep as we witness sewage being dumped in the Lake District at the hands of these companies, all whilst the Conservative government sits on their hands and takes the companies’ side. It isn’t just people in the Lake District who care about this. Time and time again we are seeing people across the country raise this on the doorstep. It does not matter whether you live in Stockport, Tiverton, or Frome. Everyone takes pride in the beauty of their home, and are watching in real-time as precious spots of natural beauty – which we should be taking care of – are spoilt by wealthy executives, seemingly without care or concern for the consequences. 

The public have lost faith in this Conservative government lifting a finger to stop this rampant disrespect of our lakes and rivers. I would argue that the opportunity to regain some public respect on this issue has passed. At any given opportunity, they appear hell-bent on taking the side of billion-pound companies rather than sticking up for us, our precious wildlife, and our beautiful lakes and rivers. The government’s spineless approach has fanned the flames of the water industry’s incompetence and voters are sick of it. 

The sewage scandal hits home with everyone. No matter your political persuasion. The scandal perfectly sums up this Conservative government: prioritisation of profit over people. 

As the only party with a concrete plan to make water companies work for us, people are taking notice of the Liberal Democrats. This has helped us achieve such incredible success in recent by-elections. Voters in traditionally Conservative seats like Tiverton and Honiton, and Somerton and Frome, know that only the Liberal Democrats will stand up to Conservative ministers who break their backs to accommodate water executives. Our reform plans even made local front-page news during the Somerton and Frome campaign. Voters have been taken for granted for too long. Particularly in rural seats where the health of waterways, rivers, and lakes plays a much larger role in the local community, workforce, and economy. 

Ultimately, we know that renationalising is not the answer. It is an expensive process that would be a significant burden on public spending during a cost of living crisis. Even a nationalised water company would still legally be able to dump sewage and lose millions of litres of water through leaks. 

Instead, we want a reform of water companies to Public Benefit Companies (PBC) where their running must prioritise consideration for an environmental, social, or public benefit. As a result, customers would not pay through the nose for shoddy service carried out only to satisfy shareholders’ demands for profit. Additionally, PBCs are not a foreign concept, with hundreds throughout the United States operating from an established model that we could learn from. 

There should be no reason for the government to fail to back these plans as it would cost little to nothing to convert our inefficient and greedy water companies into organisations prioritising the public and the benefits they can offer to them. 

Sadly, though, there is no indication they plan to take this route. They instead maintain that the sewage scandal is perfectly legal. Whilst that may be so, and only because the Conservative government made it so, we will not stand idly by and let our precious waterways, lakes, and rivers be compromised for the sake of shareholder profit like this any longer – and neither will the voters come a general election. 

 

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and spokesperson for environment, food and rural affairs

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