Brixham. Photo: 35mmman/cc
Brixham. Photo: 35mmman/cc

Lynn Gunnigle, Devon Socialist Party

The outbreak of cryptosporidium in the fishing port of Brixham in Devon is a blow to local families and small family-run businesses still reeling from the pandemic, coming at the beginning of the holiday season. At the time of writing, 46 positive cases have been identified with a further 100 people displaying symptoms. More cases are expected as South West Water (SWW) first denied the water was infected then backtracked, allowing it more time to spread.

17,000 properties were put on a ‘boil water notice’, that has now been reduced to 2,500.  Advice warning of a two-week incubation period with more cases to come has angered and worried residents who are also concerned that visitors will stay away. This will impact the local economy, and ordinary people may suffer the consequences.

Three free water collection points have been set up by SWW but, bizarrely, only one is in the town itself. Frustrated residents are having to travel to nearby Paignton, causing heavy traffic on the main road in and out of town with long queues at the depots. Petrol costs and time spent travelling are another thing local residents are paying for.

SWW has upped its compensation offer to £215 per customer affected, at first it was only £15! This is a drop in the ocean compared to the £72 billion of dividends paid out to big bosses and shareholders since water privatisation happened under Thatcher 34 years ago. And the CEO of SWW paid herself over £1 million in bonuses last year.

To add insult to injury, in the middle of this scandal SWW’s owner announced £166.3 million of profit last year and dividends for its shareholders.

SWW says it has identified the source and is working to address it, but what’s to say it won’t happen again in other places as our water infrastructure isn’t being invested in?

All in all, it’s an utter mess. It puts more strain on our diminished healthcare services. If ever there was an example of why we need our utilities renationalised, run by workers and the local community with the funding it needs, this is it.