I spoke in an Opposition Day debate last month about the urgent crisis facing British waterways. Successive Conservative governments have given private water companies a free pass to dump raw sewage into our rivers and seas. The North West’s United Utilities were responsible for 69,245 sewage overflows in 2022. There were 977 sewage dumps in the River Mersey alone.
This is an ecological emergency. According to the Environment Agency, only 14% of English rivers meet ‘good’ ecological standards, and this figure is predicted to drop to 6% in four years’ time. Shockingly, 75% of UK rivers are classed as posing a serious threat to human health.
It is not hard to trace the origins of Britain’s dirty water emergency. Successive Conservative governments of the last 13 years have shown that they are much more committed to protecting the profits of private water companies than our environment, wildlife and the health of our people.
They have made ruthless cuts to the funding of the Environment Agency, with funding for environmental protection services having fallen by over 50% since 2010. And when given the opportunity to amend the Environment Bill to impose proper regulations on private water companies, Conservative MPs instead voted to block the changes, effectively giving water companies the greenlight to continue dumping raw sewage into our waterways.
This has been more than ideal for polluting private water companies. Rather than facing effective regulation, they are instead able to ‘self-report’ incidents of sewage dumping. Evidence suggests that water firms were responsible for ten times more sewage dumping than they were disclosing.
These companies are not only being allowed to create an environmental catastrophe – they are being rewarded for it. Water bills have increased by 40% since privatisation. Meanwhile, £72 billion has gone to water company shareholders and much-needed investment in infrastructure has fallen by 15%.
People in Stockport and across Britain are rightfully fed up and outraged by corporate greed and Conservative incompetence. We have seen consistent rule-breaking, an increasing risk to public health and the pollution of our leisure sites.
The Labour Party has a plan to tackle this head on. Why doesn’t the Government?
The full speech made in the Commons on 25 April 2023 can be found here – https://tinyurl.com/y5mn9rk9
I also submitted a Written Parliamentary Question about this issue to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which can be read here – https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2023-05-09/184225