Water fat cats deny gourmet jibes

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Water "fat cats" who have been accused of feasting too heavily on the proceeds of their newly privatised companies have delighted their detractors by sponsoring a series of good-food guides.

Labour could barely conceal its mirth last night as it revealed that the Water Services Association, the trade body for the water companies, has backed the four latest offerings from Egon Ronay. The association is the main sponsor of Bars, Bistros and Cafes, published last month by Britain's foremost food critic. It is also a subsidiary sponsor of Oriental Restaurants, Just a Bite and the Hotel and Restaurants Guide.

As the association insisted that the initiative was part of a scheme aimed at encouraging restaurants to serve tap water, Labour's employment spokes-man Ian McCartney condemned the move. "Instead of splashing out on guides to dining out the water companies should be concentrating on improving job security for their staff and services to consumers. They have made the leap from the board room to the dining room," he said.

Between 1989, when the companies were privatised, and 1995 their directors had an average 383 per cent pay rise, Labour said. During the same period, the number of staff dealing with water fell from almost 48,000 to 37,500.

A Water Services Association spokeswoman denied that the sponsorship indicated gourmet tendencies among its members. It was part of a campaign to persuade restaurants to offer customers a jug of tap water rather than expensive bottled water, she said, adding that they were offering a customer care award to considerate establishments.