Simon Jupp led the debate. Unfortunately his fellow Tories from Devon followed his lead, especially Anthony Mangnall (Totnes) and Kevin Foster (Torbay). [Though to give Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) her due, she did try to rise above this.]
They let SWW off the hook from the start:
For example, here is how Simon Jupp opened the debate:
….In recent years, a spotlight has been shone on storm overflows and CSOs. Water tourism is booming across our region, including windsurfing in places such as Exmouth and Sidmouth in my constituency. However, there is another reason why people have finally started talking about the issue: the Conservative Government have put in place a plan to improve our water, giving us all an opportunity to hold water companies to account.
People finally talking about the issue of sewage because the Tories have a plan? Really!
……Of course, in a perfect world, we would stop sewage spills completely and immediately. Sadly, that is virtually impossible in the short term; because of the pressure on our water infrastructure, we would risk the collapse of the entire water network, and the eye-watering costs involved mean we would need not just a magic money tree, but a whole forest.
No short term solution because it would cost? Why so little investment over the years?
…….The Government cannot in good conscience legislate to let water bills reach astronomical levels—they are already high enough, especially in the south-west—but some of our political opponents seem to think otherwise. The Liberal Democrats have accused Conservative MPs of voting to pollute our waters and seas. That is frankly ridiculous. Why would any of us vote to put sewage in the sea? I live by the sea in Sidmouth, and I love where I live. I am calling on South West Water to invest in infrastructure in our town and across East Devon.
No legislation because SWW (and the others) would protect their investors and load the cost on the customer? – Off the hook!
And finally the Tory trope, previously discussed by Owl: “We would never vote to pollute our water” (True but Tories voted against imposing a legal duty to stop it, instead voting for something very much more “light touch”, they also postponed the deadline on agricultural runoff reduction.)
This was immediately reinforced by his sidekick Anthony Magnall, who said: It is not only ridiculous; it is incorrect. The legislation we have passed is the first ever to address this issue, and it is leading to meaningful action. Let us be clear: it is incorrect to suggest that any Member of Parliament voted to allow sewage to flow into our rivers or on to our coastline.
Contrast this with Richard Foord:
Like other Members, I received an email ahead of the debate from Pennon Group, which owns South West Water. It reads:
“We wanted to provide you with the most recent information so that you are able to have an informed debate”.
Although that could be thought of as an act of kindness on the part of the water company and Pennon Group, I for one would rather be informed by what my constituents are writing to tell me about than by what a lobbyist suggests I should think. I will be informed by constituents and bill payers.
Since my election last June, the comments and complaints have flooded in. We have heard that South West Water has permitted sewage to flood out on to our beaches and into our rivers. I am pleased that the Minister is present, because I want her and South West Water representatives to hear about some of my constituents’ experiences.
Just this month, an Axminster constituent wrote to me:
“I’d like to know why our water bills are going up when SWW are performing so badly and why it’s okay for the CEO to get such massive bonuses. We don’t get to choose our water supply like we do for other utilities and SWW has been given a free pass to rip us off. We’ve been told for years our bills are high because of ageing pipes and the size of our coastline, so why did the CEO of SWW get such a large bonus when we have such high bills?”
A second constituent wrote to me in January, after the cold snap, to explain how their access to water had been disrupted by burst water pipes. The constituent, who is from Seaton, wrote:
“I simply have to write to express my disappointment and disgust over the lack of care and co-operation shown by South West Water. If SWW are serious about customer care and ‘saving every drop’ then SWW would be making more of an effort to actually monitor those leaks which are reported to them but they are not responsible for. As a paying customer all we ever seem to get from the SWW leak team is ‘It’s not our problem.’ Surely you have a duty of care for your paying customers?”
Those are just samples of the correspondence that I have received from constituents, as I am able to bring only a few examples to bear today, but I will add one more. In December, a constituent from Beer wrote:
“Why is it that South West Water is able to charge rates that provide for update and maintenance of the sewers and drains and yet only spend 37% of their allocated budget on doing this? Is it because Pennon used some of this budget to return over £1 billion to shareholders last year? When will the government get to grips with the individuals running the water companies and pass legislation to stop the destruction of the environment from the continual discharge of untreated sewage, even in dry conditions?”
All this shows the huge discontent among our constituents, who have simply lost faith in South West Water’s ability to properly deal with the situation at hand. We are seeing sewage dumped in our rivers and on our beaches over thousands of hours, putting at risk not only the health of the public but our wildlife and biodiversity. The scale of the problem should not be understated. People feel that they are being ripped off by a company that continues to hike bills but pays out huge bonuses and large shareholder dividends while it fails to perform even its most basic functions effectively. It is clear that the company is not being run for the benefit of south-west communities and that the current regulator, Ofwat, lacks the teeth to properly police its actions.
We heard from the hon. Member for East Devon that the regulator has some teeth. If that is true, the Government permit them to be kept in a glass on the bedside table. The company is not being run for the benefit of our constituents. My message to South West Water is simple: fix the problems, focus on delivering a quality service for our constituents, and do not pat yourselves on the back for a job done so shoddily.
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