“The stench of a scandal grows with every update.”
“Further scrutiny and regulation is to come.”
The government has just issued a press release on how water companies are faring, according to the Environment Agency:
Water and sewerage company performance on pollution hits new low
Latest annual Environmental Performance Assessment shows environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies has declined.
The Environment Agency is today calling for:
- Courts to impose much higher fines for serious and deliberate pollution incidents. Fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a Chief Executive’s salary.
- Prison sentences for Chief Executives and Board members whose companies are responsible for the most serious incidents and company directors struck off so they cannot move on in their careers after illegal environmental damage.
The Environment Agency has today (14 July) released its annual report on the environmental performance of England’s nine water and sewerage companies.
The findings which have found their way to the headlines are quite dramatic:
Environment Agency gives South West Water rock bottom one-star rating
South West Water has been given a rock bottom one-star rating for its environmental performance with the Environment Agency calling for its boss to face prison if there is a serious pollution incident. The Exeter-headquartered company, which supplies Plymouth, is now the joint worst performing company among England’s nine water and sewerage firms.
South West Water (SWW) and Southern Water received just a one-star rating in the Environment Agency’s (EA) four-star rating system. SWW, part of the Pennon Group Plc, lost the two-star rating it had held since 2016. It has never been higher than a two-star company.
Susan Davy, SWW chief executive, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the downgrading and vowed to make improvements and take the firm to four-star status. She said: “This is not where we want to be. I want to reassure our customers that the investments and changes we are already making across our network are delivering real results, including a one-third reduction in pollution incidents last year to the lowest number in 10 years.”
And nationally this has warranted front page coverage:
Jail water firm bosses over ‘appalling’ pollution, says Environment Agency
Report shows English water and sewage firms’ performance on pollution has declined to worst in years
Water company bosses must be jailed for serious pollution, the Environment Agency (EA) has said, as it revealed English water firms have overseen shocking levels of pollution in the last year. The agency said water firms’ performance on pollution had declined to the worst seen in years. It is calling for chief executives and board members to be jailed if they oversee serious, repeated pollution because they seemed undeterred by enforcement action and court fines for breaching environmental laws…
Emma Howard Boyd, the chair of the EA, said: “Fines currently handed down by the courts often amount to less than a chief executive’s salary … Investors should no longer see England’s water monopolies as a one-way bet.”
Growing public outrage over the scale of sewage releases into rivers and coastal waters has forced the agenda to become part of mainstream political debate. Citizen scientists and communities across the country are providing evidence of the pollution of waterways by the firms. Howard Boyd said: “It’s appalling that water companies’ performance on pollution has hit a new low. Water quality won’t improve until water companies get a grip on their operational performance. For years people have seen executives and investors handsomely rewarded while the environment pays the price. Company directors let this happen. We plan to make it too painful for them to continue like this.”
This follows on from Ofwat intervening a fortnight ago:
The water regulator finally wakes up to the stench of the sewage scandal
With half the sector now in its sights Ofwat is right to start talking tough
“From what we have seen so far, the scale of the issue here is shocking,” said David Black, chief executive, in unusually strong language as he added South West Water, owned by quoted group Pennon, to the list of firms targeted with enforcement cases connected to the management of treatment works.
There is a question of whether Ofwat has a right to be shocked. It has regulated the sector since privatisation 30 years ago, so should have uncovered the industry’s dirty secrets by now. But the joint investigation with the Environment Agency (EA) into potentially illegal spills at treatment works, launched last November, is shaping up – possibly – as a major event.
The stench of a scandal grows with every update. South West joins Anglian, Northumbrian, Thames, Wessex and Yorkshire on the regulator’s list for specific targeting. So more than half the sector is now in a process that can lead to fines of up to 10% of turnover.
The City is starting to take it seriously. Analysts at Jefferies, who recently hosted the chief executive of campaign group Surfers Against Sewage to address fund managers on the grim technicalities of waste dumping, have been warning for a while about “increasing regulatory risks for UK water”. They called Ofwat’s Pennon move “a strongly toned update that signals to us that further scrutiny and regulation is to come”.