Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Water, water

From a particularly mild and warm autumn, it appears that colder and wetter weather is now on the way. It’s timely, therefore, to reflect on water.

First, the water we do want. We should continue to celebrate the fact that we have permanent access – apart from the occasional hiccup -to fresh, clean, wholesome water, a situation not enjoyed by most of the world’s population.  But, are we now paying more than we should be?

Rising water bills are making their own contribution to David Cameron’s growing cost-of-living crisis. Water prices have risen faster than in any other major economy. The average cost of water bills rose by 3.8% in April 2013 to £388. According to OFWAT, more than 2.26 million UK households now spend more than 5% of their disposable income on water.

Yet, the water companies appear to be making exceptional profits whilst ducking their tax obligations. In September, Yorkshire Water revealed that it had made £186m profit last year, but not paid a penny in corporation tax. Severn Trent paid out dividends of almost £160m last year, as well as paying its chief executive more than £1m. David Cameron’s coalition government seems to have no interest in tackling rising water bills, so it will be left to some of us to try to keep this issue in the spotlight.

Then, there’s the water we don’t want. The 2012 Climate Change Risk Assessment said that flooding is the greatest environmental threat to the UK. For many of us in South Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire, the devastating 2007 floods remain in focus. And 8000 homes were flooded last year. Yet, in the comprehensive spending review, the government cut the flood capital budget by 27%, whilst the government itself estimates that the number of people at significant risk of flooding will double to at least 2m by 2020.  So the government is now planning to invest £138m less in 2015 than the minimum investment its own experts have said is required. That’s not clever.

And now we learn that, after the near collapse of the flood insurance negotiations, the government hasn’t done a deal, but has reached a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the insurance industry. Some homes and businesses have been totally excluded from the arrangements, and the government itself says that it is more than likely that the scheme will run out of money in the first 20 years, so expect higher premiums.

Get the sandbags ready.