Customers of Thames Water are demonstrating outside Thames Water headquarters today.
The demonstrators will be calling for England’s water to be brought into public ownership, arguing that 'time’s up' on water privatisation while Thames Water said water quality, pollution and leakage performance have all improved thanks to private sector investment.
Their action comes after the water industry was hit by a major scandal last month, when Southern Water was forced to pay £126m for spilling wastewater into the environment and reportedly misreporting its performance.
Just before the demo, campaigner Bill MacKeith of Oxford said: “It’s quite frankly outrageous that private water companies have got away with so much for so long. After thirty years of privatisation, we’ve had higher bills, failure to tackle leaks and water companies polluting our rivers.
“Meanwhile, the highest paid director of Thames Water earns over £500,000 a year.
“Enough is enough. We’re handing Thames Water their notice, because it won’t be long before we take them into public ownership.”
The demonstration is part of a national day of action called byWe Own It – the campaign for public ownership of public services. Similar demonstrations are taking place at other water company headquarters across England.
The day of action marks thirty years since water was privatised by Margaret Thatcher’s government and comes after recent revelations by We Own It that the CEOs of private water companies have earned £70 million in salary, bonuses and other remuneration in the past six years.
The campaign group says bringing England’s water companies into public ownership would save £2.3 billion every year. They also claim that this could save people around £100 a year on bills.
Speaking on the demonstrations, We Own It 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.
“The public are absolutely clear. 83 per of us want to see water in public ownership. 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”
The demonstrations have taken place ahead of the launch of We Own It’s People’s Plan for Water in Parliament on Wednesday. The People’s Plan is a crowd-sourced manifesto for what publicly owned water could look like and what it could achieve. MPs including Clive Lewis, Deidre Brock and Luke Pollard are all confirmed to attend the launch.
A Thames Water spokesman said: "We’re here to serve our customers in the best way possible. Private water companies can make long-term investment decisions to ensure the highest standards of water quality at globally-competitive prices, while subject to strict regulatory oversight.
“The fact remains that our water quality, pollution and leakage performance have all improved thanks to private sector investment, while Thames Water customers benefit from the from third lowest average combined water and wastewater bill in England and Wales.”
Thames Water said there was a big rise in bills in the first few years after privatisation but not in recent years.
"Using an index where bills were 100 at privatisation in 1989, and excluding inflation, the index reached 150 in 2006 and 155 in 2011, since when it has remained at or close to that level. at £398 a year. Household customers benefit from third lowest average combined water and wastewater bill in England and Wales, 4 per cent below industry average (£415)."