Why clean, affordable water should not be in the hands of private companies

  • 28.08.2022
  • The Conversation

England’s water companies have come in for some heavy criticism this summer. An extremely dry July has led to drought status being declared in many areas, while 3 billion litres of water are lost through leakage every single day.

Those firms have also come under fire for the pollution they cause, with only 14% of English rivers meeting “good” ecological status. Increasing sewage discharges into rivers and seas is a serious public health issue, with the Environment Agency calling for prison sentences for those responsible for the most serious incidents.

Meanwhile, shareholders and investors have seen significant returns. In the 12 years to 2021, England’s nine water and sewerage companies paid out an average of £1.6 billion a year in dividends. Directors’ pay too, has soared. The new CEO of Thames Water received a £3.1 million “golden hello” when she joined in 2020.

Our latest research examines the way that private equity investors have come to dominate ownership of England’s water companies – and how they operate with considerably less transparency than publicly listed companies and a more aggressive approach to extracting profit.