Water companies forced to cut £150m from customers’ bills

Surely Truss and Kwarteng can’t allow even this weak regulator to go on unchecked?

Far too much state interference.

It damages profits and growth. 

Obvious target for cuts to pay for tax reductions. Growth before the environment! – Owl

[Includes South West Water]

Jasper Jolly www.theguardian.com 

Thames Water, Southern Water and other companies will be forced to cut tens of millions of pounds from consumers’ bills after the regulator said they had missed pollution targets.

Eleven water companies will have to return about £150m to customers in the form of lower bills in the 2023-24 financial year, the water regulator for England and Wales, Ofwat, announced on Monday.

The government and water companies have faced increasing criticism in recent years for allowing the dumping of raw sewage into rivers and the sea. The practice is meant to be limited to periods of high rainfall but some companies are under investigation by the Environment Agency for “significant and widespread breaches”.

Water companies in the UK have been privately owned and able to pay billions of pounds in dividends since 1989 despite enjoying a natural monopoly. As customers cannot switch water company if it underperforms, Ofwat instead runs the “outcome delivery incentives” system of automatic payments or penalties according to pre-agreed targets.

Thames and Southern will have to return £51m and £28m respectively after missed targets on water treatment works compliance, pollution incidents and internal sewer flooding across 2021-22, Ofwat said. Other recipients of large penalties included Northumbrian Water and Yorkshire Water, which will cut bills by £20m and £15m.

However, some companies will also be allowed to charge more because they have met targets. The biggest beneficiary will be Severn Trent Water, which can recoup an extra £63m from customer bills, while United Utilities will be able to charge an extra £24m.

The net result is that water companies will overall have to cut bills by £53m for failures during 2021-22.

David Black, the Ofwat chief executive, said: “When it comes to delivering for their customers, too many water companies are falling short, and we are requiring them to return around £150m to their customers.

“We expect companies to improve their performance every year; where they fail to do so, we will hold them to account. The poorest performers, Southern Water and Thames Water, will have to return almost £80m to their customers.

“All water companies need to earn back the trust of customers and the public and we will continue to challenge the sector to improve.”

Penalties to be paid by water companies

Affinity Water £0.8m; Anglian Water £8.5m; Dŵr Cymru £8m; Hafren Dyfrdwy £0.4m; Northumbrian Water £20.3m; SES Water £0.3m; South East Water £3.2m; South West Water £13.3m; Southern Water £28.3m Thames Water £51.0m; Yorkshire Water £15.2m

Bill increases allowed for companies that met targets

Bristol Water £0.6m; Portsmouth Water £0.8m; Severn Trent Water £62.9m; South Staffs Water £3.0m; United Utilities £24.1m; Wessex Water £4.4m

Tory conference: Labour favourites to win power at next election, says John Curtice

The Labour Party are “very clearly the favourites” to form the next government, pollster Sir John Curtice has told Tory activists in Birmingham.

By Brian Wheeler Political reporter, in Birmingham www.bbc.co.uk

New PM Liz Truss was now as unpopular with voters as Boris Johnson was when he was ousted, said Sir John.

And even if Labour’s current double digit poll lead reduced before the next election in 2024, Labour were still likely to gain power, he suggested.

His analysis was greeted with dismay and cries of “wow” from activists.

The veteran pollster, who masterminds general election exit polls, said Labour already had a nine point lead in the polls when Ms Truss won last month’s Tory leadership election and she had not enjoyed a honeymoon period.

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s tax-cutting mini-budget just over a week ago – and the market reaction to it – had produced a 7% swing to Labour, he said.

“The truth is, whatever the merits of Liz Truss’s package, it has resulted in very serious electoral damage to the Conservatives as an institution and to this new leader,” he told the Demos fringe meeting.

The swing to Labour was similar in size to that seen on Black Wednesday in 1992, the first time the policies of a Conservative government had produced turmoil on the money markets.

If voters remembered the events of the past week when they go to the polls in two years’ time, Labour could be on course for a three figure majority, said Sir John, even if Ms Truss’s policies work as intended and produce economic growth.

In the event of a hung Parliament, opposition parties would be unlikely to prop up a minority Tory administration, he suggested, which made Labour clear favourites to gain power.

Tory activists received a similarly sobering message at an earlier fringe meeting, from pollster with links to the party.

Veteran US pollster Frank Luntz told them: “If you want to win, stop bitching, stop griping, stop complaining and get [it] together.”

He said the party’s MPs had to start communicating with voters in a language they understood, and talking about things which mattered to them.

He also took aim at defeated Tory leadership contender and former chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has opted to stay away from this week’s conference.

“Where is Rishi Sunak? Why is he not here?” he asked the audience of Tory members.

If Mr Sunak was here he could “start to unify the party, you guys can go forward together,” added Mr Luntz.

“When people don’t even show up, what are the voters supposed to think?”

In a scathing assessment of Liz Truss’s first weeks in power, Rachel Wolf, who co-wrote the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto, said the new prime minister had no mandate from voters or her own MPs for the “ambitious” Thatcherite agenda she was pursuing.

She accused Ms Truss of “appearing not to care” about the impact her policies will have on voters worried about the cost of living,

“People are feeling poorer,” she added, and they don’t think the solutions Liz Truss has come up with “make any sense”.

Ms Wolf, co-founder of polling company Public First, and a former adviser to Michael Gove, picked apart Ms Truss’s claim to be a strong leader in the mould of Margaret Thatcher, and not afraid of unpopular policies.

The crucial difference between the two, she argued, was that Lady Thatcher had an electoral and Parliamentary mandate for her policies and was capable of articulating them in way that resonated with ordinary voters.

“Thatcher was always a strong leader,” she told the meeting, “but she was of the people, she spoke in their language”.

Pursuing an “ambitious Thatcherite agenda” without a mandate was a recipe for disaster at the polls, she suggested, and she hoped Conservative MPs could at least start to demonstrate some unity and competence.

She also had a message for Sir Keir Starmer.

“People are voting against the government but they are not voting for Labour, That might quite possibly be enough but it is the thing I would be most worried about if I were him.

“The thing that always comes up with Starmer, and still does, is that he has no views, no ideas of his own.”

Asked about the qualities needed in a modern leader, she said: “It’s very hard to support a leader who is uninterested in, or despises, you.

“It’s not whether they are strong, whether they have a view of their own, if they fundamentally don’t seem to like their electorate very much, or don’t think they are worth considering it’s very hard to vote for them.”

Liz Truss abandons plan to scrap 45p top rate of income tax amid Tory revolt

Liz Truss’s government has abandoned its plan to abolish the 45% top rate of income tax, following a turbulent reaction from international markets, and a mounting Conservative revolt over the policy.

But the policy of borrowing to fund tax cuts remains; what about bankers’ bonuses and why did Kwarteng deliberately avoid OBR scrutiny? – Owl

Peter Walker www.theguardian.com 

The decision came on the second day of the Tory conference in Birmingham, which had been dominated by dissent from Conservative MPs about both a tax cut for the wealthiest, and the wider idea of increased borrowing to finance tax reductions.

The abolition of the top tax rate, a marginal tax applying to incomes of £150,000 and above, was announced 10 days ago by Kwarteng as part of a mini-budget, which also included promised reductions to corporation tax, national insurance and the basic rate of income tax.

It triggered turmoil in the City, and was criticised by the International Monetary Fund. After a steep rise in the cost of government debt, the Bank of England made a a £65bn emergency intervention to restore order.

At the conference, the former cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Grant Shapps had taken aim at the plan to cut the top income tax rate, with speculation the wider programme of tax cuts could be financed in part by cutting benefits.

Gove toured fringe events at the party conference in Birmingham to give his verdict on the plan, which he called “not Conservative”, hinting that he could vote against the measure in the Commons.

Shapps, the former transport secretary, used a column in the Times to say “this is not the time to be making big giveaways to those who need them least” because “when pain is around, pain must be shared”.

“This bolt-from-the-blue abolition of the higher rate, compounded by the lack in communication that the PM acknowledges, is an unforced error that is harming the government’s economic credibility,” he said.

Damian Green, a former deputy prime minister, warned the Tories would lose the next election if “we end up painting ourselves as the party of the rich”.

The Tory ex-chancellor George Osborne said it was “touch and go whether the chancellor can survive” the fallout, telling the Andrew Neil Show it would be “curtains” for Kwarteng if his speech on Monday went badly.

The former minister Maria Caulfield said: “I can’t support the 45p tax removal when nurses are struggling to pay their bills.”

Truss has failed to rule out cuts in public spending to help balance the books, and the possibility of benefits facing a real-terms cut as earners on more than £150,000 have their taxes slashed.

Unanswered questions on the jailed peadophile Humphreys case.

Owl is upgrading this recent comment from Tim to a full post.

“Am I alone in thinking that the buck would usually stop, as far as the councils and police elements of this disgraceful period are concerned, with the bosses, the CEO and the Chief Constable?

Am I also alone in having concerns about the conduct of the EDDC officer who attended the meeting to be told of Humphreys arrest, and whether he (or she) did or should have reported it to those who had a need to know – like his/her boss?

It must have been foreseen that both officers stood/stand a chance, however large or small, of being found wanting in the way they carried out their duties. Surely neither should have had anything to do with any element of any enquiry into the matter. They should have recused themselves. Is it not unprofessional to have failed to recognise this from the start ?

In his report, Mark Williams quotes a number of sources and it appears he suggests that they back his officer’s decision to keep the matter, Humphreys’ arrest, confidential. That is his Williams interpretation, others may differ. I see those sources as firstly making it clear that victims, past, present, and potential, must be the primary concern and steps must be taken to have them kept safe. The quoted sources then also talk of the need for confidentiality for an accused, and rightly, of the principle of innocent until proved guilty. However, they then say there will be times others should know – but on a strictly ‘need to know’ basis. I feel ill at ease with a CEO who it appears thinks it not necessary that he knows about a prolific and horrendous sex offender amongst those be has some responsibility for. I know that I would want to know if it were an employee of mine.

While we are at it, let’s get this nonsense about the Cliff Richard case out of the way. That action was against South Yorks police giving confidential information about Richards to the BBC who then spectacularly made it public. Of course they were wrong. In the Humphreys case however there is no suggestion that the information was going in to the public realm. It was to be an exchange of confidential information between senior staff of two statutory bodies, both of whom had responsibilities in regard to the protection of vulnerable people. The case does not support the argument that the EDDC officer acted correctly in maintaining confidentiality. It was not unusual to exchange such information, it is not unusual, it happens all over the country all of the time. I would go so far as to say that without such ‘need to know’ exchanges happening daily between appropriate parties, the judicial system, a part of which I worked in and daily exchanged confidential information, would fall to pieces.

There are many elements of this matter that remain unclear. I have many questions remaining unanswered or unclarified, in between all the gossip. If I get clarification, or answers, I hope to add them in due course. Meantime I share the concerns already expressed.”

[Owl is aware of how much effort Tim and also Mark Hawkins put into checking that the comments they make on this case can be substantiated] 

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner given senior minister role

This government is unelected, unaccountable and out of control = Owl

The City business partner of Jacob Rees-Mogg has been handed a peerage and job as a senior minister by Liz Truss’s government in a move likely to trigger accusations of cronyism.

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Dominic Johnson, a financier who co-founded Somerset Capital Management with Rees-Mogg, was appointed as a minister in the Cabinet Office and the Department for International Trade.

The announcement was slipped out on the government’s website, which said he had been appointed as of Sunday.

“Dominic Johnson CBE was appointed a minister of state jointly in the Department for International Trade and the Cabinet Office on 2 October 2022,” the statement said.

The appointment is likely to be controversial at a time when Truss, her chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, and Rees-Mogg face questions about being too close to the City, after the mini-budget handed substantial tax cuts to financiers and the wealthy.

Johnson is a substantial party donor who has given more than £250,000 and was vice-chairman of the Conservative party between 2016 and 2019. He replaces Gerry Grimstone, the former chairman of Barclays and Standard Life, in his role as trade minister, encouraging inward investment.

Somerset Capital Management is reported to be up for sale, with two of its founding partners now in senior government roles. Johnson recently said he was stepping down as chief executive of Somerset Capital Management.

Rees-Mogg still holds a substantial stake in the investment firm, despite the potential conflict of interest with his role as business secretary.

Petition: Call an immediate general election to end the chaos of the current government

[Already heading towards half a million – Owl]

Call an immediate general election so that the people can decide who should lead us through the unprecedented crises threatening the UK.

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Waiting for 4 days for a debate date

Government responded

This response was given on 20 September 2022

The UK is a Parliamentary democracy and the Conservative Party remains the majority party. The Prime Minister has pledged to ensure opportunity and prosperity for all people and future generations.

Read the response in full

The United Kingdom is a Parliamentary democracy, not a Presidential one. Following the general election of December 2019, Members of Parliament of the governing party (the Conservative Party) were elected, such that there is a majority in the House of Commons. This remains the case. A change in the leader of the governing party does not trigger a general election – this has been the case under governments of successive political colours.

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022 provides that Parliament is automatically dissolved five years after it first meets (unless it is dissolved sooner), otherwise the timing is a matter of discretion for the incumbent Prime Minister (subject to re-established constitutional conventions).

In her speech of 6 September 2022, the new Prime Minister set out three early priorities: to grow Britain’s economy, deal with the energy crisis caused by Putin’s war, and putting the national health service on a firm footing. The Prime Minister is determined to address the challenges the country faces and ensure opportunity and prosperity for all people and future generations.

Cabinet Office

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