Water pledges draw fire all round

The privatised water industry came under a fresh barrage of criticism yesterday despite pledging to end hosepipe bans and share future efficiency gains with customers through lower bills or better services.

The pledges formed the centre-piece of a "fightback" by nine of the 10 water companies against the wave of adverse publicity since privatisation seven years ago.

Denying that the campaign was motivated by a fear of Labour's windfall tax, the nine publicly committed themselves to "never again" subjecting their 50 million customers to rota cuts or standpipes in the street.

Other pledges included an end to the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers and the sea, improved compensation schemes for customers and a drive to reduce leakage rates.

However, the campaign backfired almost immediately after the companies were unable to give firm dates for when hosepipe bans would become a thing of the past or detail how efficiency gains would be divided between customers and shareholders.

Frank Dobson, Labour's environment spokesman, said the pledges fell "far short of what the next Labour government will require them to do" and re-iterated the party's intention of imposing a windfall tax on the privatised utilities.

The Government's Environment Agency, meanwhile, said the water industry's record on pollution since privatisation had not been good, adding that it wanted to see more detail of how it planned to turn "its vision into reality" and the time-scales involved.

Consumer watchdogs also voiced scepticism. Elizabeth Monck, chairwoman of the Thames customer services committee of Ofwat, criticised the absence of any detailed breakdown of how excess profits would be shared between customers and shareholders: "Substantial profits have been made since privatisation and customers are looking for a much clearer message about where the benefits are coming to them."

John Green, managing director of Anglian Water and chairman of the Water Services Association, which is co-ordinating the initiative, insisted the pledges went well beyond the statutory requirements contained in the water companies' licences. He was unable to give an commitment, however, that the pledges would stand if Labour got in and levied its windfall tax.

The nine companies backing the initiative are Anglian, North West Water, Welsh Water, Northumbrian, Severn Trent, Southern Water, South West Water, Thames and Yorkshire.

However, only four of these - Northumbrian, Severn Trent, North West and Welsh - were able to pledge publicly yesterday that they would never again enforce hosepipe bans. Their commitment to end discharges of untreated sewage was equally patchy, with some companies refusing to give a time- scale.

Brian Duckworth, managing director of Severn Trent, said: "The water industry has come in for a lot of criticism and we believe that some of this is justified. Some things have gone wrong but far more is going right for the industry."

Comment, page 17

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Financial Advisers and Paraplanners

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This extremely successful and well-established...

Guru Careers: FX Trader / Risk Manager

Competitive with monthly bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced FX...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue