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Sewage monitors at UK seaside resorts either faulty or not installed, data reveals

According to the Environment Agency data analysed by the Liberal Democrats, sewage monitors installed by UK water firms did not work “90% of the time” or had not been installed at all. 

Water companies have been accused of failing to monitor how much sewage is being pumped into the sea.

According to the Environment Agency data analysed by the Liberal Democrats, sewage monitors installed by UK water firms did not work “90% of the time” or had not been installed at all.

Dozens of pollution warnings were put in place across beaches and swimming spots in England and Wales this week after heavy rain overwhelmed sewer systems, leading water companies to release sewage into the natural environment.

Ministers are under pressure to clamp down on the water firms which are being criticised for not investing money back into the UK’s outdated water infrastructure.

The data shows Anglian Water has the highest rate of failure, with 49% of all its sewage discharges not measured due to faulty or no monitors installed, according to the Lib Dems.

This is followed by South West Water with 30% and Severn Trent Water with 29%.

One in eight of South West Water’s sewage monitors installed at designated bathing locations across Cornwall and Devon are either faulty or not installed, the party said.

In Sussex, Southern Water was found to have altogether failed to install one at the popular seaside spot of Littlehampton Pier while one in Seaford was working only a third of the time.

The Lib Dems’ environment spokesperson, Tim Farron MP, said: “These water companies could be guilty of gross negligence by failing to install sewage monitors.

“This is a national scandal and these new figures stink of a cover-up. Britain’s seaside resorts are being swamped by foul sewage yet the government is nowhere to be found.”

In response to the issue, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs released a response earlier this week outlining the action it is taking.

Water minister Steve Double said: “We are the first government to take action to tackle sewage overflows.

“We have been clear that water companies’ reliance on overflows is unacceptable and they must significantly reduce how much sewage they discharge as a priority.

“This is on top of ambitious action we have already taken including consulting on targets to improve water quality which will act as a powerful tool to deliver cleaner water, pushing all water companies to go further and faster to fix overflows.

“Work on tackling sewage overflows continues at pace and we will publish our plan in line with the 1 September statutory deadline.”

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An Anglian Water spokesperson said: “Following over £300m of investment in the last decade, all but three of the places designated for bathing in our region are rated as good or excellent for bathing water quality, and all have EDM monitors installed on them.

“Work to install EDM monitors on all the CSOs (combined sewer overflows) across our region is ahead of target as part of our Water Industry National Environment Programme as agreed with the Environment Agency.

“We will have full coverage across all CSOs by the end of 2023.”

Southern Water, South West Water and Severn Trent Water have been asked to comment.

England’s highly paid water bosses rake it in from lucrative second jobs

Susan Davy, boss of Pennon Group, owner of South West Water, which was spilling sewage and stormwater into seas around Devon and Cornwall last week, is on the board of data management firm Restore plc. She was paid £53,000 by the firm last year, sitting on a remuneration committee.

Jon Ungoed-Thomas 

Some of the highly paid bosses of England’s water companies are earning tens of thousands of pounds in second boardroom jobs, advising on the pay deals of other top executives.

Five of the chief executives of England’s nine water and sewerage companies are also working as non-executive directors in other firms, sitting on remuneration committees.

Campaigners say it is inappropriate for water bosses to be helping to fix the pay and bonuses of senior executives in other companies.

Nicola Shaw, who was appointed head of Yorkshire Water in May, is also on the board of International Airlines Group (IAG), which owns British Airways. She sits on its remuneration and safety committees, earning €123,000 (£115,000) last year.

Yorkshire Water said this weekend that Shaw’s second boardroom role did not affect her commitment to improving water services.

Susan Davy, boss of Pennon Group, owner of South West Water, which was spilling sewage and stormwater into seas around Devon and Cornwall last week, is on the board of data management firm Restore plc. She was paid £53,000 by the firm last year, sitting on a remuneration committee.

An analysis by the Liberal Democrats revealed last week that the average water company boss’s total pay rose by 20% in 2021, despite most firms failing to meet sewage pollution targets. The party said the pay packages were a “national scandal”.

Andy Prendergast, national secretary of the GMB union, which has criticised the level of pay and bonuses given to water bosses, said: “This country is facing a water crisis and the fact that those paid fortunes to deal with it have enough time to moonlight in second jobs beggars belief.

“At a time of hosepipe bans and sewage discharges, we deserve that those paid high salaries devote their time to putting it right. The fact their second roles largely involve green-lighting massive salary increases for other bosses is scandalous.”

The performance of water companies is under mounting scrutiny as drought has been declared across large swaths of the country. The Environment Agency reported in July that “the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies was the worst we have seen for years”.

Swimmers were warned of sewage and stormwater flowing on to beaches last week, mainly on the south coast. A Labour party analysis has found that water companies have spent more than 9 million hours discharging raw sewage and stormwater into the country’s rivers and seas since 2016.

Other water bosses with non-executive roles include Sarah Bentley, boss of Thames Water, who was paid more than £2m last year. She is a non-executive director of Lloyds Bank, sitting on the remuneration committee. Thames Water and Lloyds Bank declined a request from the Observer last week to disclose any fees paid to her.

Heidi Mottram, who earns £648,000 a year as boss of Northumbrian Water, is a non-executive director of the energy firm Centrica, where she was paid £93,000 last year. She sits on three committees, including the remuneration committee.

Steve Mogford, who was paid £3.2m last year as boss of north-west water firm United Utilities, started as non-executive director of the defence firm Qinetiq this month. Mogford, a former senior executive at the defence giant BAE Systems, sits on four committees, including the remuneration committee.

Luke Hildyard, executive director of the High Pay Centre, a thinktank that researches on issues around the pay of senior executives and corporate governance, said: “Most people would be astounded if they realised that pay levels for chief executives are set by committees made up of other chief executives and people in similar roles.

“The justification for paying such large salary packages to company chief executives is that they are doing such important and demanding work. This is undermined if they have time to sit on the boards of other major companies.”

On Monday the High Pay Centre will launch its annual review of executive pay in the country’s top companies. It is calling for more representation from a company’s workforce on remuneration committees.

It is not unusual for company heads to accept non-executive roles and employers say it can provide fresh insights for senior bosses. There can, however, be concerns about the level of commitment required.

In February 2015 Liv Garfield, the chief executive of Severn Trent, announced she was standing down as non-executive director of Tesco. She said she wanted to “concentrate fully” on her chief executive role at the water company.

Water companies said last week that the other jobs performed by their CEOs are properly disclosed.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Sarah Bentley’s role as a non-executive director is in the public domain. The insight and perspective that she gets from her role at Lloyds, given their turnaround, is valuable to her role at Thames Water and was approved by our board when she joined in 2020.”

Yorkshire Water said Nicola Shaw’s work at IAG did not “impact on her role” at the water firm. A spokesperson said: “In fact, as for many other executive directors who hold similar positions, the role brings back knowledge and experience from other industries that we can take learnings from.”

None of the water companies responded to a request to provide the hours their chief executives worked each month on their other boardroom roles.

Government ‘has lost the plot’ over plan for GPs to prescribe heating bill discounts

Labour has accused the government of having “lost the plot” over plans for GPs to prescribe people cash to pay their energy and heating bills.

Jon Stone

Officials in the Treasury reportedly want family doctors to assess whether sick or elderly people need a discount heating their homes.

The idea, reported in the Sun on Sunday newspaper, is said to be one of a number being discussed in government to help with the cost of living.

But shadow health secretary Wes Streeting warned the plan would simply put more pressure on the NHS over the winter.

“The Conservatives have lost the plot on the cost of living crisis and haven’t got a clue about the level of pressure on the NHS,” he said.

Mr Streeting said Labour “already has the right prescription for dealing with rising energy bills”. The opposition says it would pay energy companies to freeze the energy price cap where it is.

This would head off expected increases to over £3,000 over the winter.

The Liberal Democrats have come forward with a similar proposal, while the Green Party says prices are already too high and should be cut to last year’s levels.

Treasury officials apparently believe using GPs to target energy bill discounts will save money money because it will help target cash at people who need it most.

On Sunday afternoon the British Medical Association (BMA) said they “completely reject” the policy and branded the government’s approach to policymaking “deeply unprofessional”.

Dr David Wrigley, BMA England’s GP committee deputy chair, said: “At a time when GPs are already overwhelmed with the greatest workforce crisis and longest waiting lists in memory, this addition to their workload is totally unacceptable.

“It beggars belief that Government ministers think it is appropriate to suggest GPs undertake this work.”

He added that GPs “do not have the time or the skills to do the work of the welfare system”.

“In these next few months GPs already have to worry about delivering the Covid and flu vaccination programmes that will be necessary to see the NHS through the winter, on top of their daily crushing workload and the enormous Covid backlog we now see,” he added.

“The Government has not discussed this with us in any form – floating these sorts of proposals via the media is deeply unprofessional. We completely reject any suggestion that GPs do this work.”

The government has offered little in the way of concrete policies on cost-of-living since the Spring, with the Conservatives focusing on a party leadership contest.

New proposals are expected from whoever wins the contest next month, with an emergency budget expected in the autumn.

The Times newspaper meanwhile reports that the National Grid is taking action and planning to reward customers for shifting power-hungry activities to low-demand times.

It will ask regulator Ofgem to let it pay customers to shift tumble-drying and dish-washing to overnight. The grid operator hopes the scheme will be in place by October if approved.

The latest forecast for the energy bill price cap warns that bills could soar as high as £6,000 by April.

Consultancy Auxilione says that the cap is expected to reach £3,576 in October, rising to £4,799 in January, and eventually hitting £6,089 in April.

Until April this year the cap was just £1,277, but prices have been pushed up by the war in Ukraine and a surge in demand caused by the reopening of economies after Covid-19 lockdowns.