Anglian Water is losing 180 million litres of water every day through leaky pipes, and thousands of gallons of raw sewage are continuously pumped into East Anglian waterways. With recent coverage on the size of bonuses and dividends paid to water company directors and shareholders, we have to ask ourselves how any increase can be justified?
Fellow Bylines contributor Elana Katz has already asked in her piece on Anglian Water, “Where has it all gone wrong?”
As a captive customer – as we all are to our respective water suppliers – I was keen to understand the justification for this price increase.
I will let you draw your own conclusions from the information I gleaned.
The reasons for higher prices
I was advised that a typical two-person household will likely see their payment increase by £3-£3.50 a month. The increase is due mainly to rising inflation, and investments for the future. Rising energy prices, higher chemical and other material costs are also blamed.
Anglian Water state they are working with Ofwat to ensure water bills are kept as low as possible, whilst investing £720m to prepare our region to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing climate and a growing population.
How polluted are our rivers?
According to a spokesperson for Anglian Water, “Storm overflows and sewage treatment works should not damage our environment.” I think we all agree on that but unfortunately it is clear that they do!
Combined Storm Overflows act as pressure release to enable the management of extreme periods of rainfall. Excess water is diverted into our waterways to protect homes and businesses from flooding. Event Duration Monitoring (EDM) where fitted, collects data on storm overflow events.
Back to the spokesperson: “CSOs were designed to cope with high levels of rainfall entering the system, but they are not a 21st century answer to the problem of sewer flooding. We shouldn’t need them – we’ve already removed many of the highest risk CSOs from our networks – and we continue to assess and remove those that pose a threat. But there’s an awful lot more to do.”
The growing evidence that CSOs across the country are discharging almost daily, irrespective of weather conditions, undermines this last statement. Anglian Water has been fined several times by the Environment Agency for water pollution including, as we’ve previously reported, £536,000 for killing 5,000 fish in the River Wid in Essex in 2018.
My attempts to ask how things have been allowed to get this bad were repeatedly sidestepped. So how polluted are our rivers? Anglian Water claim that “all but three of the places designated for bathing in our region are rated as good or excellent for bathing water quality, and all have EDM monitors installed on them.” However, there is contradictory evidence, as explained in this short film on pollution levels in the River Deben in Suffolk.
Anglian Water state they intend to spend £39m increasing the network’s capacity to store excess rainwater. “For the future, we are looking at building two new reservoirs (one for Anglian Water and the other in conjunction with Cambridge Water).”
They will also investigate and increase control of the highest spilling overflows by installing more monitors across the network. Unfortunately, additional monitors won’t prevent the spillages.
England and Wales are the only countries in the world with a fully privatised water sector. According to research by the Financial Times, in the past 30 years, most of our water companies have slashed capital investment in critical infrastructure by up to a fifth. The companies were originally sold off with no debt and given £1.5bn. They have since gone on to borrow £53bn, and rather than using that money for new investment, they have paid £72bn in dividends to shareholders.
In 2022, Anglian Water, paid a £92m dividend to its shareholders despite rising customer bills, and sewage and pollution failures. Anglian Water is Britain’s largest privatised water company, servicing 7 million customers across 13 counties. It is owned by sovereign wealth and pension funds, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and IFM Global Infrastructure Fund.
According to company records, in 2021, Peter Simpson, Anglian Water’s chief executive, and Steve Buck, the chief financial officer, were collectively paid more than £2.2m in bonuses, in addition to their combined base pay of more than £900,000. This at a time when there were over 2.6 million hours of untreated sewage spills into English rivers and coastal waters by water companies.
Government support for the water companies
The Lords Amendment 45 to the Environment Bill would have placed a legal duty on water companies in England and Wales to make improvements to their sewerage systems and demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage. However, in January 2023, 265 MPs, including some from East Anglian constituencies, voted down the amendment.
The Environment Agency has stated that £5.3bn is to be invested over the next five years to prevent further deterioration of our waterways. However, the summary documents within the plan show the target for all 3,651 bodies of water to achieve good chemical and ecological status – where they are as close to their natural state as possible – has been delayed until 2063.
So, on this evidence, what are we to believe? Will our increased water charges be used to improve the infrastructure, or further enhance executive and shareholder payouts? One could even ask – Is Anglian Water actually fit for purpose?