Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water supplier, might need to be temporarily renationalised by the government. At least, that’s according to reports on 28 June, just one day after its chief executive resigned.
Sarah Bentley stepped down with immediate effect amid mounting worries over the company’s debt, which totals nearly £14 billion.
Thames Water supplies 15 million homes and businesses in London and elsewhere in southern England. The country’s water companies have accumulated a combined debt of £54bn since privatisation. This has funded investments and shareholder dividends, according to an investigation last year by the Guardian. This investigation found that more than 70% of England’s water industry is under foreign ownership.
Once again, Thames Water has shown that privatisation is only for businesses and shareholders to hoard wealth while the public are shafted. Just days earlier, a Freedom of Information request from the Guardian found that the number of leaking pipes managed by Thames Water was the highest it had been in five years. Not only this, but the company is behind on its schedule to repair leaks. And, on top of that, there are reports that water bills are set to soar by 40% so that water companies can deal with the sewage crisis.
Shareholders getting richer, while the public have to pay more? Sounds familiar.
Many people on social media took a dim view of this mess.
Author Richard Huntington pointed out that Thames Water was debt free at the point of privatisation:
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Thames water about to collapse according to sky news. Struggling Under 14bn of debit. To be clear they were debt free at privatisation. Paid dividends rather than investing. Board should be personally liable.
— richard huntington – Upriser (@adliterate) June 28, 2023
MP Dawn Butler urged people to wake up:
This is shocking!
How is this possible when they’re paying huge amounts to their shareholders?
When companies are asked to invest in something for the public good they never find the money.
Wake up people! Time to put the public before corporate greed.https://t.co/sX5OcP211F
— Dawn Butler MP✊🏾💙 (@DawnButlerBrent) June 28, 2023
Policy correspondent at the Independent Jon Stone pointed out that Thames Water has a monopoly in its sector but is still failing:
imagine being unable to run a financially sustainable business based on having a literal monopoly over water? I am in awe https://t.co/ZWDbF092X3
— Jon Stone (@joncstone) June 28, 2023
Deputy political editor of the Financial Times Jim Pickard laid out the bare facts of Thames Water’s incompetence and greed:
– water companies had no debt when they were privatised
– since then they gave borrowed £53bn
– much of this has been used to help pay £72bn in dividends
– interest rates have now spiked
– what could possible go wrong?https://t.co/Ptk3RReDIu
— Jim Pickard 🐋 (@PickardJE) June 28, 2023
Sinking into shit
Thames Water’s incompetence would be galling enough on its own, without the rumoured public bill to clean up sewage. There are also concerns about water quality and lax environmental protections post-Brexit.
Water firms have been under fire for years over releasing untreated wastewater into rivers and seas. This is blighting fragile ecosystems and leading to illnesses in people and the closure of beaches. Jo Robb, from a wild swimming group in London, said:
It disgusts us that in a G7 country in 2023 we get parents telling us weekly about their children who have vomiting and diarrhoea from swimming in the river. This is a result of total failure of Thames Water to invest in sewage infrastructure for the last 30 years.
Ex-Thames Water boss Sarah Bentley gave up her bonus over her failure to oversee sewage cleanup. This is a move that GMB Union has called a “flimsy PR stunt”. It’s only rendered all the more unconvincing given that Bentley recently doubled her pay to £1.5 million.
Ultimately, the boss can resign but that doesn’t stop the rot at the company. Thames Water is just the latest company that’s supposed to be offering a public service but has put profit over people. The government should be permanently bringing these greedy companies under public control. Don’t hold your breath though – unless you’re in sewage-infested waters.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
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