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Politics explained

What is the record of privatised water companies in England?

Every time there is a water shortage, the cry goes up to renationalise the water companies, writes John Rentoul

Thursday 11 August 2022 17:49 BST
Bringing water back under public control would cost in the region of £90bn
Bringing water back under public control would cost in the region of £90bn (Getty)

The regional water authorities in England were one of the last industries to be privatised by Margaret Thatcher, in 1989. Every time there is a water shortage and hosepipe bans are brought in, the cry goes up to cut the bosses’ bonuses, fine the companies for leaks and renationalise them.

Some of these demands are more justified than others. One way of trying to assess the success or otherwise of water privatisation is to compare England and Wales with Scotland, where water is still the responsibility of local councils, and paid for with council tax.

Scottish Water, the public corporation that oversees the industry in Scotland, was ranked the best UK water company for customer service last year. It pays its chief executive £267,000 a year, compared with an average £1.7m for the bosses of the privatised English companies – and the Scottish press still complains that its bosses are paid too much.

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