Liz Truss failed to meet any water bosses over sewage dumping in two years in environment post

Her “efficiencies” included a £24m reduction to grants for environmental protection, including surveillance of water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage, the National Audit Office said.

Meanwhile pollution alerts today, 27 August at Charmouth and Perranporth.

Rob Merrick

Liz Truss failed to hold any meetings with water bosses over the dumping of raw sewage in two years as environment secretary, despite the practice having been ruled illegal.

The likely next prime minister is facing fresh questions about her responsibility for the sewage scandal after records revealed her only talks were to discuss a bug linked to severe stomach upsets.

Yet, two years before Ms Truss took over the environment post in 2014, the UK was found guilty of breaching EU laws over sewage in waterways and given five years to clean up its act.

Labour called the lack of meetings “beyond belief”, accusing the Tory leadership race favourite and her party of “treating Britain as an open sewer”.

Feargal Sharkey, the campaigner for clean water and former musician, told The Independent: “This is absolutely shocking – Truss acted like an absentee landlord while the water companies exploited a national resource.

“The government fiddled the system to hand control and oversight of pollution to the water industry, while the regulator was like a 12-year-old smoking behind the school bike sheds.”

The revelation comes after Ms Truss came under fire for cutting tens of millions of pounds of funding earmarked for tackling water pollution while in the environment brief between 2014 and 2016.

Since 2016, raw sewage discharge in England and Wales has more than doubled, from 14.7 spill events for each overflow to 29.3 in 2021, separate figures have shown.

The summer holidays have been blighted by swimmers being warned to stay out of the water at more than 50 of Britain’s beaches, as the privatised firms continue to pump sewage into the sea.

At party hustings, Ms Truss sought to blame regulators for the problem, accusing them of “mission creep” and saying of the water companies: “They need to be better at dealing with pollution and we need to sort that out.”

But Labour’s research reveals that only one of more than 150 listed meetings she held while environment secretary was with a water company – with United Utilities, to discuss the parasite cryptosporidium.

Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: “For Liz Truss to have only ever had one conversation with a water company and none on sewage dumping is beyond belief.

“It shows a lack of leadership on a serious issue that blights our country’s areas of beauty and risks our health.

“Given her actions in actively dismantling the services that protect our natural environment, which led to a sewage surge, it begs the question: what else Liz Truss touches turns to crap?”

Hugo Tagholm, chief executive of the campaign group Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Liz Truss not only neutered the regulator but enabled water companies to profit from a system that was never fit for purpose.

“Since privatisation in 1989, the industry has ignored its mandate to invest in infrastructure upgrades, instead hosing their profits on dividends and bonuses.”

During hustings last Tuesday, Ms Truss defended her cuts to anti-pollution funding – while the water company bosses have been allowed to enjoy bumper bonuses.

Her “efficiencies” included a £24m reduction to grants for environmental protection, including surveillance of water companies to prevent the dumping of raw sewage, the National Audit Office said.

The Environment Agency has pleaded for both the cuts and its power to properly monitor water companies to be restored – instead of allowing the industry to self-report discharges.

But Ms Truss replied: “There are plenty of things the Environment Agency were doing, that they shouldn’t have been doing,” – without setting out what they were.

The leadership candidate has been asked to respond to the criticism of her for not meeting water companies over the two-year period.

Crime Commissioner calls for police to a visible presence across Devon

“Even I don’t believe there’s 3,610; we’ve got to get them out and visible” Alison Hernandez.

No wonder Shaun Sawyer is going! – Owl

Lewis Clarke

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has called for a more visible presence of officers across the region. The PCC Alison Hernandez was visiting Tiverton and the constituency’s newly elected MP, Richard Foord, when they met at the Lowman Green station on Tuesday, August 16.

Ms Hernandez said: “The biggest thing, regardless of what resources policing has, is that police officers and staff work relentlessly and tirelessly to try and keep crime out of Devon and Cornwall. We are the second safest area in the country, and we are about to have the highest number of police officers we’ve ever had of 3,610. We must help our community believe they are on their side by being more visible. Even I don’t believe there’s 3,610; we’ve got to get them out and visible.

“That’s the job of the new chief constable that I’m in the process of recruiting at the moment, and I look forward to announcing who that will be soon.”

She spoke about the reopening of the station’s front desk, which is due to take place in November.

She said: “The job adverts have been out and I’d like to thank everybody who promoted those available jobs. We should have a fantastic member of staff who will be here Monday to Friday, 10 am until 3 pm, and we can’t wait to get it open.”

Despite Ms Hernandez campaigning for the Conservatives, she welcomed new Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord to Tiverton: “We want somebody who’s here to represent the community, who can go to their MP and share with them the issues that are affecting them in this constituency.

“I’m here as well as the PCC, but the MP has access to Government departments and to caseworkers who can help them support a community member in trying to get an issue dealt with.

“Policing is here for people, and if there are issues, I want them to report them to the police. I know that our 101 phone line is really busy, particularly during the summer, but there’s the online report, webchat, email, and Crime Stoppers. I’m encouraging people to report, particularly drug dealing, on 0800 555 111 completely anonymous.”

Mr Foord said he had been impressed with the hard work of officers in Tiverton and across Mid Devon.

“We’re both here today to talk about policing across Tiverton and Honiton,” he said. “We just had some members of the public come up to us and tell us about some issues that are affecting them, and I think that illustrates how opening a front desk is very effective at engaging with the community. I’d also like to see that happening at the Honiton police station.

“I’m seeing the fantastic work today of police not just in Tiverton, but across constituency area. They’re working as hard as they can with their limited resources.

“I’m certainly behind the front desk opening here in Tiverton. As a Liberal Democrat MP, I would like to see more resources put into policing. I know that across Devon and Cornwall Constabulary last year, 21,000 crimes were closed without a suspect being identified. Of course, these are the things that can be overcome with more resources for policing by the Government.”

He added that issues of antisocial behaviour were regularly brought up while out campaigning. He said: “People often talk to me about antisocial behaviour in towns. Racist graffiti is something I’ve already had constituents coming to me with concerns about, and I think we need to get on top of that before it becomes a bigger issue in the community.”

UK government’s sewage spills strategy is ‘cruel joke’, say critics

“This is a government trying to spin its way out of a problem it only sees as needing to manage from a PR perspective. Our rivers and coasts are paying the price for this complacency and the public are angry.”

Helena Horton 

The UK government’s strategy to tackle sewage discharges is a “cruel joke”, critics have said, after ministers laid out plans to stop the pollution.

George Eustice, the environment secretary, announced that water companies would have to invest £56bn over 25 years into a long-term programme to tackle storm sewage discharges by 2050.

This investment will be used to increase the capacity of companies’ networks and treat sewage before it is discharged to protect public health and prevent pollution, while also reducing all discharges. Failure to meet these targets, the government said, could lead to firms facing substantial fines or having to return money to customers.

However, critics say these payments will end up being put on customers’ bills and force the public to pay as chief executives continue to receive large bonuses.

Under government plans, by 2035 water companies will have to improve all storm overflows discharging into or near every designated bathing water, and improve 75% of overflows discharging to high-priority nature sites. By 2050, this will apply to all waterways.

But according to analysis of the proposals by the Liberal Democrats, by 2030 there will still be 325,000 sewage dumps a year on Britain’s beaches, as well as in lakes, rivers and chalk streams.

The Lib Dems’ environment spokesperson, Tim Farron, said: “This government plan is a licence to pump sewage on to our beaches and in our treasured rivers and lakes. By the time these flimsy targets come into effect, our beaches would have been pumped full of disgusting sewage, more otters will be poisoned and our children will still be swimming in dangerous water.

“This is a cruel joke. The government is going to hike water bills to pay for cleaning up the mess made by water companies. The same companies who awarded their executives multimillion-pound bonuses this year and paid out over £1bn to their shareholders. Whilst they roll in the cash, we swim in sewage. The whole thing stinks.”

The government has said that under its plans, bills will not go up until 2025. Sources also said they would not allow companies to profit from environmental damage.

Annual bonuses paid to water company executives rose by 20% in 2021, despite most of the firms failing to meet sewage pollution targets. Figures show that on average executives received £100,000 in one-off payments on top of their salaries, during a period in which foul water was being pumped for 2.7m hours into England’s rivers and swimming spots.

Eustice said: “This is the first government to take action to end the environmental damage caused by sewage spills. We will require water companies to protect everyone who uses our water for recreation, and ensure storm overflows pose no threat to the environment.

“Water companies will need to invest to stop unacceptable sewage spills so our rivers and coastlines can have greater protection than ever before.”

Jim McMahon, the shadow environment secretary, said: “Instead of governing, it’s clear that the Conservatives have taken up writing fiction, as this document is neither a plan, nor does it eliminate sewage dumping into our natural environment. Under the government’s weak improvement ‘target’, based on last year’s data we’d face another 4.8m sewage spill events in our country between now and 2035.

“Last year Tory MPs had the opportunity to vote meaningful action into law, but blocked measures that would have progressively eliminated the discharge of raw sewage in our natural environment.

“Britain deserves better than a zombie Tory government that is happy for our country to be treated as an open sewer. Labour will use the levers of power to hold reckless water bosses to account legally and financially, and toughen regulations to prevent them from gaming the system.”

Stuart Singleton-White, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust, said: “Defra’s claim these are the strictest targets ever for water companies … sounds impressive. It isn’t, and the government know this is a weak plan that falls short of what is needed. What’s more, this plan falls short of the commitments made in the Environment Act and fails to take on board the recommendations of its own storm overflow taskforce.

“This is a government trying to spin its way out of a problem it only sees as needing to manage from a PR perspective. Our rivers and coasts are paying the price for this complacency and the public are angry.”