Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Water, Water

The national media is carrying stories about water shortages and the potential for drought restrictions in the South-East, whereas the local media is reporting that reservoirs serving our area are full to bursting.

Coincidentally, water is the subject of a number of debates in Parliament this week.

It is only four years ago that we suffered some devastating floods. I was reminded of the rhyme from my childhood: ‘Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.’  A recent NAO report shows that the increased government expenditure on flood defences since then has protected 182,000 homes.

In 2007, the Labour government negotiated an agreement with the insurance industry. In return for the government increasing funding in flood defences, there was a guarantee of universal flood insurance coverage for homes in affected areas. This agreement expires in 2013. Unfortunately, the coalition government has chosen to cut flood protection investment by 27% this year and in each of the next 3 years. Many projects in our area have been cancelled.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has now warned that 200,000 high-risk homes will not be able to get flood insurance once the agreement runs out, unless there is a sustainable alternative scheme in place. However, the government has said it has no intention of doing this. I see big problems ahead.

Meanwhile, the government is rushing forward with new legislation, mainly to cut £50 off the high water bills in the south-west, which arise from the last Conservative government’s botched privatization. Elsewhere, water bills will rise an average 5.7% from April. In the Severn-Trent area, 340,000 households spend more than 5% on their water bill, and in the Yorkshire Water area, more than 190,000 households.

A WaterSure tariff was introduced in 1999. It applies to households with three or more children living at home under the age of 19 or where someone in the household has a medical condition which necessitates high water use. But only one-third of eligible households make use of it.

The government should be using its data to ensure everyone eligible is on the lowest tariff. Meanwhile, if you are eligible, why not apply now?