The Socialist 15 May 2004
Get The Troops Out
Water Charges Rip-Off
WHAT WE need is a non-payment campaign," said one of the scores of people signing our petition against water charge rises in Coventry. "Why should we pay fifty quid more for what's falling out the sky now?" asked another.
Rob Windsor, Socialist Party councillor, Coventry
This angry response was in the Severn Trent Water area, where the proposed increase will be 31% over five years (around £57 on everyone's bill). In other areas, especially Yorkshire and the South West, the proposed increases will be substantially more.
The privatised water companies argue they need the cash from their customers for a vital £22 billion modernisation and investment programme. We agree with the investment programme - but not with the means of getting it. Our point to passers-by was simple, the fat-cat water bosses and big shareholders have run off with the cash for it!
Take Kevin Bond, chief executive of Yorkshire Water in 1998, part of the 'L'Oreal' tendency of fat-cat bosses. He justified his £300,000 a year salary by saying he was "Good value for money" but this company was dogged by controversy and a 12% rise in complaints. During the shortages of 1995-96 customers had to queue for water from standpipes.
In 1997 the campaign group WaterWatch explained that 42% of a customer's average £222 bill went towards dividends for shareholders. In the Severn Trent area the figure was nearly 30% from an average bill of £200. Yet these companies now bleat that they have no cash.
They cite debt recovery costs as a reason for the increase but these costs will rise as the new increase is phased in over five years, putting an average of £14 on everyone's bill by next year with similar increase in later years.
Already the poorest and most vulnerable get no extra help with water bills and struggle to pay them at the moment. Workers struggling to pay overblown mortgages for inflated house prices will also suffer. And now the water companies have fired the opening shot, other utility companies are seeking big rises in bills.
The scope is there to look to build a campaign both in communities and workplaces against these rises. The lessons of the anti-poll tax campaign 15 years ago, where meetings, demonstrations and a determined campaign of non-payment beat Thatcher's massively unfair local tax, will be invaluable.
The rises show that privatisation simply doesn't work. There has never been a better example of how the free market system cannot guarantee decent affordable services for most of the population.
In this issue
Socialist Party election campaign
Workplace news and analysis