They can’t cope – so renationalise the water industry

Thursday, 22nd July 2021

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‘There is no single body that is responsible for managing flood risk in this country’

ONE of the deepest sighs of relief at Jeremy Corbyn’s general election defeat would have come from the top bosses at Thames Water.

Labour’s 2019 manifesto had included a specific policy to renationalise the water industry and bring an end to “rip off” prices and eye-watering pay rises for company directors.

The then shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had accused Thames Water of tax avoidance saying that in one year £18billion was paid out in dividends to shareholders.

Water was one of the last of Margaret Thatcher’s major privatisations, in 1989. In the 30 years that followed bills have rocketed, chief executives’ pay has shot up and its owners have become infamous for extracting huge amounts of wealth from the company and its consumers.

All that money could have led to higher investment to prevent the kind of catastrophic flooding that devastated the lives of residents and business owners last week.

Most of the people speaking to the paper over the past week have complained of a lack of clarity and how no one will accept any blame. There is no single body that is responsible for managing flood risk in this country.

The Environmental Agency, councils, water companies, drainage boards and highway authorities all have a stake in the game.

Ultimately, it is up to Thames Water to maintain and manage the water supply and sewerage systems and to reduce the risk of flooding and environmental pollution.

When pipes burst, the company blames the antiquated system it inherited. Last week, it said the drainage system simply could not cope with the level of rain that fell in Monday’s storm.

Fixing these fundamental problems appears beyond the ken of the current fragmented set-up, a so-called “multi-agency approach” to managing the capital’s flood risk.

This mishmash of officials from the council, Thames Water, City Hall and various government departments and quangos only seem capable of pointing the finger at one another, proving the proverb that too many cooks spoil the broth.

Would a publicly-run water company be any better? It could hardly do any worse.

Thames Water has not met its leakage performance targets in Camden since 2015. And there is surely no doubt it would make it easier to bring about what is really needed, a major investment in the capital’s drainage system.

The Labour Party needs to get back on its campaigning horse and hammer this home.

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