Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham and Labour’s candidate for Stockton West Joe Dancey blasted Teesside Conservative MPs for refusing to back their constituents against water company bosses paying themselves big bonuses despite discharging significant levels of raw sewage into waterways across Teesside.
Yesterday, Conservative MPs ignored a Labour motion to the House of Commons calling on the Government to empower Ofwat to ban the payment of bonuses to executives of these companies until the industry makes serious efforts to tackle the issue of ongoing sewage discharges.
This comes as a BBC Panorama investigation found evidence of a water company covering up illegal sewage discharges, making sewage pollution disappear from the official figures. Whistle-blowers at the Environment Agency told Panorama the company was wrongly downgrading pollution incidents and that the agency was failing to conduct independent checks.
Despite high levels of sewage pollution and mismanagement of the problem, consumers in Stockton North faced an average £75 hike a year in their water bill.
Labour will give Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) the powers to ban the payment of bonuses to water bosses who are found to pump significant levels of raw sewage into our rivers, lakes, and seas. Boosting the regulatory powers of the water regulator will mean water bosses who fail to meet high environmental standards on sewage pollution will be met with significant sanctions to ensure they cannot profit from damaging the environment.
Under these plans, Ofwat would have been able to block six out of nine water bosses’ bonuses last year due to high levels of pollution.
According to company reports from 2021-22, the bonus pool for executives stood at an average of more than £600,000 at each company. In total, 22 water bosses paid themselves £24.8m, including £14.7m in bonuses, benefits and incentives, in 2021-22.
This is part of Labour’s wider plan to put the water industry under “special measures” which includes:
- End self-monitoring and force all companies to monitor every single water outlet.
- Ensuring that water bosses will face personal criminal liability for extreme and persistent lawbreaking.
- Introducing severe, automatic fines for illegal discharges.
“While water companies are paying out a fortune in dividends and bonuses, the Conservative Government has allowed them to cut corners and pump discharges into our waters, including the River Tees, and Billingham and Lustrum Becks. This is nothing short of a national scandal that is hurting our waterways and local communities.
“It’s high time the water companies stopped putting profit before the environment and sorted this issue out once and for all. The Tories on Teesside had an opportunity to stand up for their constituencies against these companies but they chose not to.
“They and their party might not be willing to tackle this issue but Labour is and will strengthen regulation that puts communities and our waterways before water bosses’ bonuses.”
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Steve Reed MP, said:
“This Conservative Government has wilfully turned a blind eye to negligence at the heart of the water industry. The result is stinking, toxic sewage destroying our countryside.
“Despite this gross negligence, consumers in Stockton North are now expected to pay £75 more a year, whilst bosses are pocketing millions in bonuses.
“With Labour, the polluter – not the public – will pay. Water companies must immediately be placed under special measures.
“Labour will make sure every single water outlet is monitored so we know the true extent of this sewage crisis. Water bosses who continue to oversee law-breaking on the scale now becoming apparent will face criminal charges, and we will give the water regulator powers to block payment of any bonuses until water bosses have cleaned up their filth.”
Joe Dancey, Labour’s candidate for Stockton West said:
“The River Tees is a jewel yet the joint failure of Tory ministers and water bosses has meant discharges from Hurworth through Middleton One Row and Aislaby to Yarm, Eaglescliffe and Thornaby.
“If I am elected in Stockton West after the next election, I would be standing up for the River Tees and communities along its banks unlike sitting MPs Paul Howell and Matt Vickers who meekly followed the Conservative whip to put the water bosses’ big bonuses first instead.”
- Labour will give Ofwat further powers to curb bonuses through an amendment of duties in the Water Industry Act (1991).
- Water company remuneration and bonuses https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/may/09/uk-water-bosses-bonuses-sewage.
- Water companies in England and Wales want bills to increase by £156 a year by 2030 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-66979271.
- A BBC Panorama investigation reveals water companies can make sewage pollution disappear from the official figures https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-67567323.
- Bill increases by region https://www.theguardian.com/money/2023/oct/02/by-how-much-could-water-bills-in-england-go-up-and-why