Tuesday 28 May 2024

Stop the Sewage! Don't 'tinker' with the boards, nationalise under democratic workers' control!

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

Just in the last week, South West Water had to issue a "boil water" notice after a parasite outbreak in the water supply around Brixham. Anglia Water was found guilty of failing to release records that might have confirmed that they had again been releasing untreated sewage into the North Sea. 

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 too.

On the weekly protest outside the United Utilities (dis)Information Centre in Windermere

Private firms simply doing what they are meant to do - making money!

But why should anyone expect anything different? After all, these privatised companies are simply doing what they are in business to do – to reward their shareholders. And, on that, you have to admit that they’ve been doing a very good job indeed.

A recent analysis from the University of Greenwich found that investors had withdrawn a staggering £85bn from water and sewage firms since the industry was privatised more than 30 years ago. 

The Save Windermere campaign has called out United Utilities (UU) as being one of the worst of the profiteers. Their figures indicate that, from 2016-2020, UU only invested £40m into the Windermere catchment area. At the same time, their investors received £1.6bn! For the last year alone, UU has just reported an operating profit of £518m and increased shareholder dividends by 9.4%.

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. It’s obvious to everyone that water privatisation has been a total scam. But how is it going to be stopped?

The answer is nationalisation under democratic workers' control

The obvious answer is nationalisation - but not just so that their debts can be written off 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 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, but now, of course, without the money being siphoned off by greedy shareholders. In Windermere’s case, that would mean investing in infrastructure that could stop any sewage discharges into its catchment, channelling it all to treatment plants instead.

But neither Labour nor LibDems will call for it!

But, while party leaders like Ed Davey and 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 Liberal Democrats 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 of firms 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.

Nationalisation without compensation for the big corporations 

Windermere’s local Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron was rightly asked by a BBC Radio 4 Today presenter today (May 28), “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. They have no right to expect any more! 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!


Sadly, it seems that 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 this May's General Election for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition certainly will!

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