Eileen Wragg, East Devon district councillor, writes for the Exmouth Journal.
EILEEN WRAGG www.exmouthjournal.co.uk
It is sometimes surprising how people and groups from different sectors can, with commitment, join forces and work together, and achieve results which work for the benefit of others.
I recall becoming aware of the unfair charges levied on water customers following the privatisation of the water industry in 1989, when companies replaced the water authorities, issuing shares which ensured investment in the world of water supply and sewage treatment for good financial returns.
This was not good for the six per cent domestic customer base who were supplied with meters in the early 1990s, of which I was one, and I quickly realised that my water bill was almost double that of unmetered customers who could use limitless amounts of water for a fixed price, while I had to ration my family’s use.
I eventually began a campaign against South West Water’s (SWW) charges, which grew into a national movement, attracting huge press, radio and television coverage.
The results were surprising, SWW was receiving hostile publicity which was feared to be affecting its investors and share dividends, so it decided to set up a Devon and Cornwall Customer Consultative Group, of which I became chair, and then a Special Assistance Fund which helped customers in water debt – that later became WaterSure, now outsourced to Citizens Advice.
Along with other customers, we worked well together with the company, for the mutual benefit of both sides.
Now, customers are being offered the choice of shares in SWW, or a £20 discount on their bills.
What a long way we’ve come!
The outcome personally was that I was asked to stand for local elections in 1996, and the rest is history, albeit still in the making.
I am still a Liberal Democrat district councillor, and in the spring this year, the Democratic Alliance was formed with the East Devon Alliance, Greens, Lib Dems and an Independent joining together, breaking over 45 years of Tory rule at East Devon District Council.
I am delighted to report that we now have a healthy administration and work extremely well together in a truly harmonious way.
As the late MP Jo Cox said in her maiden speech: “There is far more that unites us, and we have more in common than things that divide.”