Campaigners are demanding that one of Thatcher’s most damaging policies is finally reversed

A tap with running water
Glen Black

On 6 July, anti-privatisation campaigners across the country will protest to mark 30 years since Margaret Thatcher sold off England’s water system. Following Southern Water’s recent scandals, the protests will demand the return of England’s water network to public ownership.

“Serious failures”

The Water Act 1989 handed England’s government-run water authorities over to the private sector. Thatcher billed privatisation as a “cost-effective” measure that would improve water quality. However, figures show that water bills are 40% higher than when the Water Act came into effect. Furthermore, private companies have repeatedly failed to improve water quality.

On 25 June, water regulator Ofwat imposed a £126m fine on Southern Water after an investigation revealed “serious failures” in the company’s sewage treatment operations. This included a lack of investment into infrastructure, which led wastewater to pollute rivers and coastlines across southern England. Southern Water also misreported its own performance in order to avoid Ofwat penalties.

Corporate Watch and GMB union also revealed in June, that water company bosses have taken home £70m over the last six years. Ian Mcauley of Southern Water took home more than £1m in 2018 alone.

Public demands

Anti-privatisation group We Own It said these revelations show England’s water network needs to return to the public sector. In a press release, campaigns officer Ellen Lees said:

The story of water privatisation is a story of failure. We’ve had thirty years of rising bills, shareholders and CEOs pocketing millions, and private companies failing to fix leaks in the system. … Now we’re speaking out and saying time’s up for private water companies that have ripped us off, polluted our rivers and allowed cash to flow straight from our bills into their shareholders’ bank accounts. Now we’re saying it’s time for public ownership.

We Own It also said bringing water back into public hands could save £2.3bn a year, or about £100 a year per household.

As a result, on 6 July, We Own It will lead demonstrations saying that “time’s up” for water privatisation. They will take place at water company headquarters in Reading, Coventry, Bath, Worthing, Huntingdon, Exeter, and Bradford. This is exactly 30 years since the Water Act came into law.

The demonstrations also come ahead of the launch of We Own It’s People’s Plan for Water on 10 July. MPs including Clive Lewis, Deidre Brock, and Luke Pollard will attend the launch event.

Take it back

Trade unionists carried out similar demonstrations. GMB members protested outside Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFRA) offices on 4 July. National officer Stuart Fegan described water privatisation as a “Thatcherite experiment” that had “utterly failed”.

It’s clear that there’s a groundswell of opposition to the state of England’s water network. As companies hand their bosses huge salaries, they are willfully polluting the country’s water system. That ultimately affects all of us, so it’s time that control is finally returned to the public.

Featured image via Unsplash – Imani

Get involved

  • Sign We Own It’s petition to bring water back into public hands.

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