The independent London newspaper

Why the rich will get richer, and the poor will get wetter

20 February, 2020

ONE of the deepest sighs of relief at Boris Johnson’s general election landslide in December would have come from the top bosses of Thames Water.

Labour’s manifesto had included a specific policy to renationalise the water industry and bring an end to “rip-off” prices and eye-watering pay rises for company directors.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell accused Thames Water of tax avoidance, saying that in one year £18billion was paid out in dividends to shareholders.

Water was one of the last of Margaret Thatcher’s major privatisations in 1989.

In the 30 years that followed bills have rocketed, CEO pay has shot up and its owners have become infamous for extracting huge amounts of wealth from the company and their consumers. All money that could have led to higher investment to reduce leaks.

The collapse of the Labour vote in December has ensured that Thames Water will continue to cause misery for thousands of residents in Camden each year.

The rich will get richer, the poor will get wetter.

That’s unless the Town Hall’s environment scrutiny committee gets tough with its representatives on Tuesday. Scrutiny probes such as these often have an air of compliance.

Thames Water are likely speaking the truth when they say they “look forward” to the inquiry. They will be expecting a soft soap.

Councillors should not forget the disgraceful scenes in Somers Town last year when 30 residents of a homeless hostel had to be evacuated after a water pipe burst at the weekend.

It was the second time the neighbourhood has faced a deluge in 18 months when the area saw flooding five feet deep.

Somers Town Mosque saw its traditional carpets destroyed in the flooding.

Elderly and disabled people were stranded for days, not able to catch the bus to Camden Town for shopping.

Hampstead has particularly borne the brunt of pipe bursts and there was a flood in West End Lane just a few weeks ago.

Each time, Thames Water blames the antiquated water pipe system it inherited 30 years ago from the former publicly owned utility.

How much longer can they go on blaming the Victorian pipes?

The company has not met its leakage performance targets in Camden since 2015, the report to council states.

One of the problems with the privatisation is that big decisions are taken a long way away from the people most affected by them.

We still need to build a new model of genuinely democratic public ownership which forces water companies to talk openly to government, local government and environmental organisations.

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