Ofwat, like the sector it regulates, is in hot water. Its call to act on bonuses sounds rather tepid

Ofwat, the water regulator, has noticed that the industry it oversees in England and Wales has been in the news recently.

Nils Pratley www.theguardian.com 

So it has been. Discharges of raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters are a scandal happening in plain sight, and each set of data feels more shocking than the last. A highly critical report from MPs on the environmental audit committee in January made a strong case that Ofwat itself, plus the Environment Agency, should be more assertive.

And here comes a regulatory response of a sort to the “current high level of scrutiny” of the sector: a letter from David Black, Ofwat’s interim chief executive, to the chairs of remuneration committees of the water firms suggesting, in a roundabout way, that bosses’ bonuses should be cut if the pollution record is poor.

The letter is the first of its kind and acts on one of the MPs’ suggestions, but one cannot call it strongly worded. Performance-related pay should show “a substantial link” to delivery for customers, including on “environmental commitments and obligations”, wrote Black, which is hardly laying down the law. There was a reminder to boards that they are allowed to recognise shortfalls “whatever the initial framework for [pay] incentives”, which is just a statement of something the directors should know already: bonuses are always discretionary.

One could say, generously, that Ofwat is merely at the preliminary stage of issuing a high-level warning and that tougher tactics could follow. The problem with that interpretation, though, is that Black didn’t specify what penalties would be imposed if his appeal for good behaviour on pay and bonuses is ignored, which must be a possibility.

In recent press interviews, he has hinted at fines or changes to licence conditions, but the letter itself only said Ofwat would be “assessing your company’s approach” and did not describe possible sanctions.

Maybe the pay-setters will come cleanly, as it were. But Ofwat, which is under scrutiny as much as the companies, would help itself if it laid out specific examples of unacceptable pay practices. Curbing boardroom bonuses for polluters is a good idea. But the policy requires the regulator to be stronger than it currently sounds.

Water bosses’ pay and bonuses in 2020-21 from www.thetimes.co.uk 

• Susan Davy, chief executive of Pennon, the parent company of South West Water, was paid £1.7 million, including £1.2 million in bonuses

• Steve Mogford, the chief executive of United Utilities, was paid £2.9 million, including £2 million in bonuses.

• Liv Garfield, the chief executive of Severn Trent Water, was paid £2.8 million, including £1.9 million in bonuses

• Sarah Bentley, the chief executive of Thames Water, was paid £1.2 million, including a £273,000 bonus.

• Ian McAulay, the chief executive of Southern Water, was paid £1 million, including £550,000 in bonuses.

The Guardian view on unaffordable homes: building injustice into the economy 

While Korea makes consumer electronics and Germany makes cars, Britain churns out buy-to-let landlords. There’s little to envy in such “success”.

Editorial www.theguardian.com 

The average wage of the top 1% in Britain rose to £13,770 a month in December. Jeevun Sandher, an economist at King’s College London, points out the very richest saw their incomes rise the fastest during the pandemic. This group were also likely to have been able to save the most while Covid raged. Where do the very wealthiest spend their cash? One place is housing, for which there is a low level of stock being released on to the market. The result is rising house prices. Over the past 12 months, asking prices have gone up by 9.5%.

This has a knock-on effect for renters. UK rents rose by 8.3% in the last three months of 2021. For would-be first-time buyers, the situation is as bad if not worse, with the current average price of £277,000 nearly £25,000 higher than just a year ago. Those looking to have a roof to live under will find little solace in official figures. These record an 11% drop in the number of total homes added in 2021 compared with the year before. The number of new affordable houses that began being built dropped 16% year-on-year. Shortages of labour and materials, as well as planning delays, will make it harder for the 11th Tory housing minister since 2010 to meet government targets for new homes.

Britain’s housing stock is being turned into an asset class as a consequence of the excessive financialisation of the UK economy. For those who own their homes, these buildings serve a dual purpose: they provide shelter, and function as investments. For around 2.5 million landlords, who between them accounted for 18% of all property purchases in 2019, they are only investments.

If the underlying problem is a lack of homes, then one solution may be to build more. But if the problem is landlords, and the fact that property owners are incentivised by rising prices, as well as their desire for more space (a desire that may have been augmented by the switch to home working), to buy as much of it as they can, then building more homes won’t help. It could even make matters worse, by creating more opportunities to extract exorbitant rents from those who have an income but lack the capital for a deposit, or the confidence to take on a huge debt.

Over recent decades, ballooning property prices have served home owners well, especially in the south of England. The form of inequality this has created currently appears to be generational. Older people are more likely to own their homes than younger ones. City firms are ploughing billions of pension savings in “build-to-rent” developments that could see a transfer of wealth as younger people end up paying the pensions of older people.

The Labour party could be bolder in dealing with the property haves and have-nots. Its housing policy is for first-time buyers to get priority in new housing developments and to ban foreign owners buying up new properties. But hoarding by commercial landlords that hurts young renters and many homeowners needs tackling. One suggestion by housing barrister David Renton is for “right to buy” to be extended to the private sector – say to where landlords own a minimum of five properties. There may be outrage from those who regard rent as economic growth. This surely must change. While Korea makes consumer electronics and Germany makes cars, Britain churns out buy-to-let landlords. There’s little to envy in such “success”.

Drivers could be banned from parking on pavements due to radical rule change

Looks like this ban is getting closer, which will be bad news for Cranbrook – Owl

Chris Harper www.birminghammail.co.uk 

Drivers could be banned from parking on pavements under radical new change introduced by the Government. The consultation which took place in 2020 is expected to be published this year.

The original consultation, which ended on October 2020, has yet to published its results. However, the results of the consultation could come in the coming weeks.

According to the summary, the findings are expected to be coming out very soon. The new rules could mean drivers could face a fine for parking on pavements.

Current rules in the UK do not ban drivers from parking on pavements expect if they are obstructing access. New rules could see them banned out right from parking on pavements.

The consultations offered three proposals and the results will indicate what the Government will go towards. Option one and two would see improvements to the existing system or give local authorities extra powers to deal with obstructions.

Option three would introduce a nationwide pavement parking prohibition which would see the practice banned across the UK. Fines could also be introduced.

The Department for Transport (DfT) previously admitted a ban would be “the most significant change to English parking law in several decades.”

The Government agency also said local authorities would need to undertake a “substantial amount of work to prepare for it.” They warned a ban would require a “significant implementation period” which would be “time consuming and expensive.”

The DfT has also warned a national ban may be “inappropriate” in rural areas where some pavement parking “may be safer.” It also said , some local areas said they “depend on pavement parking to preserve traffic flow.”

In 2021, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill that will outlawed pavement parking across the country. Stuart Hay, director of lead campaign group Living Streets Scotland, said: “This is the first nationwide ban put in place in the UK and represents the culmination of over a decade of campaigning.

“People in wheelchairs, parents with pushchairs and older adults who are currently forced into oncoming traffic when faced with vehicles blocking their path will now be able to enjoy a new freedom.

“Practical plans and resources, including the proposed national publicity campaign, should now be put in place to ensure the bill is enacted efficiently. England and Wales should look to take a lead from today’s monumental decision.”

The DfT has been contacted for comment from BirminghamLive.

Sidbury road closure scaled down after residents’ concerns

A planned month-long road closure in Sidbury for gas pipe work has been replaced with smaller and shorter closures. 

Philippa Davies www.sidmouthherald.co.uk

Cotford Road was due to close between Cotford Bridge and Chelsea Cottage from Monday, February 28 until Friday, March 25. 

But local residents and the district councillor for Sidmouth Rural Ward, John Loudoun, contacted Wales & West Utilities to raise concerns about the disruption this would cause, and the company has now changed its plans.  

Buckley Road will be closed at its junction with A375 Cotford Road with a diversion in place until Wednesday, February 23. 

From Friday, February 28 until  Friday, March 4, Cotford Road will be closed from Cotford Bridge to Roncombe Lane – including the first 100m of Roncombe Lane. A diversion route will be clearly signposted. Barring any engineering difficulties, Cotford Road will reopen on March 4. 

From Monday, March 7 until Monday 14, the first 100m of Roncombe Lane will remain closed. Access to Cotford Road will be maintained for homes on Roncombe Lane. 

From March 14, three-way traffic lights will be in place on Cotford Road at Cotford Bridge and Buckley Lane. Barring engineering difficulties, these lights are expected to be in place for one week.

The overall work is expected to finish by the end of March. 

Wales & West Utilities’ Jake Sami is managing the gas pipe upgrade work. He said: “We’re pleased that we’ve been able to update our plans to act on the views of the local community. We’re committed to working alongside local people to make sure we can do our essential work while keeping disruption to a minimum.” 

Cllr Loudoun said: “These are clearly essential works. I’m grateful to Wales & West Utilities for having reacted positively, and swiftly, to the concerns that I, and some residents, raised about the length of time and the impact on the flow of traffic along the A375, and through the village, that these works, as originally planned, would have had. 

“Residents will be pleased that the disruption that these works will bring has now been significantly reduced. I am pleased to have been able to work constructively with Wales & West Utilities on behalf of the village.” 

The company’s Customer Service Team can be contacted on freephone 0800 912 2999, via Twitter @WWUtilities or Facebook.com/WWUtilities.