Sewage pollution in our rivers and seas has been in the headlines for a long while. Water companies have resisted cleaning up their act preferring to wait until 2050 until they halt the discharge of human waste every time it rains heavily (that’s called normal weather) or something breaks down.
A couple of weeks ago, Philip Dunne voted against directing the water companies to stop sewage discharges by 2030, preferring to give the companies another 20 years. That’s 20 years in which the companies will continue to make large profits and pay their chief executives ever escalating rewards of more than £1 million a year. That’s 20 years during which the water companies will be allowed to slow their progress in reducing discharges to around one third of current progress.
Meanwhile, the companies are hoisting charges to consumers by around 7.5%. They say it due to high energy prices but in reality, it is because they can get away with it under the lax regulation under Ofwat, a toothless watchdog kept firmly on a short leash by the government.
Since Philip Dunne he secured the chair of the cross-party Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), he has been a strong champion for the environment. Under his chairing EAC has done much sterling work. However, that does not extend to him defying a government whip.
At a meeting with Seven Trent Water last year on schemes to reduce sewerage overflows into the Teme, Philip Dunne said: “I have talked a lot about shit recently. Some people will say I have always been talking shit.” Not always. But Dunne’s voting against a motion on ending sewerage discharges into waterways and the sea by 2030 was exactly that.
This went against an EAC recommendation in a report on water quality in rivers published this January. The report made a lot of sense. It said: “We found the claim made by the chief executive of Severn Trent that its sewer overflow discharges were ‘pretty much already rainwater’ to be disingenuous.” The company was not routinely testing discharges. “Discharges from overflows can be highly contaminated with raw sewage and other pollutants. To claim otherwise shows a disregard for the public’s concern about water quality in rivers.”
Good stuff and among recommendations made by EAC was:
“We recommend that Ofwat require water companies, as a condition of their continued licensing, to deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of pollution incidents, with a target of zero serious incidents by 2030.”
But Dunne obeyed the Tory whip and voted against his committee’s recommendation being incorporated into law when the Lib Dems tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill ensuring an end to sewerage discharges by 2030. After the defeat of the amendment, water companies will not have to change their dirty habits until 2050.
That might have gone unnoticed if Dunne had not told the House of Commons that the opposition was playing politics with the issue by laying down the amendment, an accusation he repeated in his column in the South Shropshire Journal and on his blog.
Dunne is in one sense ahead of its time. The i reports today that Tory MPs are to be given tips on how counter claims by opposition parties that the part is weak on sewage.
Mr Dunne may be prepared to wait more than quarter of a century for clean rivers and seas. The public are not. They expect and deserve clean waterways.
Under the plans backed by Dunne, water companies only need to reduce the number of discharges by 2.2% a year and volume of discharges by 2.7% a year. Yet, the water companies reduced the number of discharges by 6% and the volume by 11% between 2020 and 2021 (Top of the Poops). Targets should be stretching. The only thing stretching about the target Dunne has championed is the length of time water companies have to make excessive profits while getting away with polluting our waterways.
We are paying £100 a year more for our water bills as a result of privatisation of the water companies by the Conservatives in 1989.
Water bills are to go up by an average of 7.5% in April, with Seven Trent Water increasing its bill by an average of 7.1% (£26 a year). Meanwhile, water company chief executives’ pay has gone up by 20% in a year (£). Seven Trent Water’s chief executive, Liv Garfield, is the highest paid in the sector, receiving a £3.9 annual million package. That’s the average wage for more than 100 people over a lifetime of work received every year.
It’s a gravy train and some of the stuff pouring into our rivers and seas looks like gravy. Except it’s not. It’s shit.