Ban bonuses for water firm bosses until sewage spills stopped, urge Lib Dems

Bonuses should be banned for water company bosses until sewage spills into rivers stop, the Liberal Democrats are to demand.

Helena Horton 

Executives were awarded £27m in bonuses over the past two years despite pumping out raw sewage into waterways 1,000 times a day, analysis by the party has found.

The former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron is tabling a 10-minute rule bill that will also ask for mandatory targets and timescales for the end of sewage discharges into waterways and coastal areas. It would require quarterly reports on the impact of sewage discharges on the environment, and place a representative of environmental groups on water company boards.

Companies House records show that executives at England’s water and sewage companies were paid £48m in 2020 and 2021, including £27.6m in bonuses, benefits and incentives.

This is despite recent reports from the Environment Agency showing 772,000 sewage dumping events took place in 2020 and 2021 – more than 1,000 a day.

Campaigners have suggested that the money spent on bonuses would be better spent on infrastructure to prevent sewage spills, which can harm wildlife as well as human health.

The party has called for the executives to hand back last year’s bonuses and for funds to be used to clean up sewage spills.

The Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, said: “The Conservatives are allowing water companies to pump raw sewage into our precious rivers and lakes while awarding themselves obscene bonuses. Just like the millions paid out to bankers during the financial crisis, the public will find this hard to stomach.

“Liberal Democrat plans for a sewage bonus ban would stop water company execs being paid a penny in bonuses more until our waterways are protected from sewage dumps. These bosses should be made to hand back the millions of pounds already received in bonuses to help clean up their mess.

“It’s time to send a message to the Conservatives that they cannot let water company bosses get away with pumping raw sewage into our rivers and beaches any longer.”

The companies with the biggest executive payouts include United Utilities, which was responsible for the most spills over 2020 and 2021, which paid bonuses of nearly £6m. Severn Trent awarded executives £5.5m in bonuses while dumping sewage 120,000 times. Meanwhile, Yorkshire Water, which dumped sewage 135,000 times, handed out bonuses of £3.3m.

This bill is likely to stir up tension among Conservatives. The government was last year forced into a U-turn after Tory MPs voted not to ban sewage spills into rivers. The government later wrote its own legislation putting a legal duty on water companies to prevent sewage spills.

The environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “A holistic approach to cleaning up our rivers is a top priority for Conservatives and we have introduced the strongest measures ever to tackle this and sewage discharges through the Environment Act and the government direction to Ofwat.”

]Tim Farron’s private members Bill introduced under the ten minute rule passed its first reading on Tuesday 19 April: 

“A Bill to provide for mandatory targets and timescales for the ending of sewage discharges into waterways and coastal areas; to make provision about the powers of Ofwat to monitor and enforce compliance with those targets and timescales; to require water companies to publish quarterly reports on the impact of sewage discharges on the natural environment, animal welfare and human health; to require the membership of water company boards to include at least one representative of an environmental group; and for connected purposes.”]