Utilities: Help for 'unusually high' water bills

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People in the south-west of England will be given public aid to cut their water bills – which are the highest in mainland Britain.

George Osborne said that the region's bills were "unusually high" and money would be set aside for relief payments.

Behind the region's idyllic coastal villages is the reality of bills that will, on average, see South West Water (SWW) customers in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset paying £517 per year in water bills. The main cost has been because SWW had to spend £1.5bn over 20 years, completely revamping the region's sewage system, which until the 1990s was spewing untreated effluent on beaches from 250 pipes, damaging its reputation as a tourist area.

The Clean Sweep programme, as it was known, was completed several years ago. Despite assurances from SWW that bills would stabilise, there has been considerable anger as they have continued to rise faster than the rate of inflation.

Dan Rogerson, MP for North Cornwall, said: "After years of campaigning and an uphill struggle to help hard-pressed South West Water customers, I wholeheartedly welcome the news that the Treasury will put money towards a water bill relief fund which is expected to be in the region of £40m per year."