Windermere, Photo: Mkonikkara/CC
Windermere, Photo: Mkonikkara/CC

Martin Powell-Davies, Socialist Party national committee

Right across the country, privatised water companies are fleecing the public, and polluting our environment.

South West Water had to issue a “boil water” notice after a parasite outbreak. Ailing Thames Water has now had to do the same for houses in Surrey.

Here in Cumbria, as highlighted by the weekly protests of the ‘Save Windermere’ campaign, United Utilities continues to use one of the Lake District’s most iconic lakes as a sewage pond, threatening its ecosystem and the health of swimmers and lake users. Local rivers and streams are also being polluted.

Polluting for profit

But why should anyone expect anything different? After all, these privatised companies are simply doing what they are in business to do – reward their shareholders.

Investors have withdrawn a staggering £85 billion from water and sewage firms since the industry was privatised more than 30 years ago.

Not content with continuing to pollute for profit, all the privatised water firms now want to fleece us further by hiking up water bills even more.

The obvious answer is nationalisation – but not just so that their debts can be written off, with taxpayers footing the bill, before they are handed back to profiteers! No, these firms need to be taken back into permanent public ownership.

And, in place of the toothless ‘regulator’ Ofwat and the compromised Environment Agency, the renationalised firms also need to be placed under democratic workers’ control so that elected representatives of water and sewage workers, lake and river users, local communities, and trade unions, can exercise real control, and agree a plan for the investment that is urgently needed to stop the sewage.

With public ownership, that vital public investment must also then be provided, without being siphoned off by greedy shareholders.

But, while party leaders like Lib Dem Ed Davey and Labour’s Keir Starmer are happy to make some vote-grabbing headlines opposing water pollution, they refuse to make the clear and obvious call for nationalisation!

The renationalisation of water and other public utilities was one of the many commitments ditched by Keir Starmer after the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn. Instead, Labour’s policy now just says it will ‘strengthen regulation’ and ‘block the payment of bonuses’.

The Lib Dems have now added the call for water firms to become ‘public benefit companies’ with “local environment experts” sitting on the company boards as non-executive directors to “improve public accountability and transparency”.

But no amount of ‘regulation’ or rebranding will stop these private companies being primarily in business for the benefit of their shareholders! Public money will continue to go towards private profit instead of into public infrastructure. Adding a few non-executive directors will never allow for the genuine control for, and by, the public in the way that democratic workers’ control would be able to.

Lib Dems

Windermere’s local Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron was asked by a BBC Radio 4 presenter: “Why not just nationalise rather than tinker with the board?”. His answer? It’s not “very sensible to be giving billions of pounds to shareholders and big corporations to buy those companies back into the state”.  New Labour has previously come up with similar excuses too.

But why should these fat cats receive a penny more? They’ve already fleeced billions out of the public purse and billpayers. Compensation should only be paid where there is a genuine proven need, for example to safeguard workers’ pension investments or small shareholders – but certainly none to the ‘big corporations’ at all!

The establishment ‘opposition’ parties are too tied to big business to make the obvious call for nationalisation to stop the sewage. However, the Socialist Party and others standing in the general election for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition certainly will!

Martin is standing as the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate in Chorley, against Speaker Lindsay Hoyle. He is a former member of the National Union of Teachers (now the NEU) NEC.