For Islington residents who suffered from a burst water main last week, Thames Water’s decision to announce a hosepipe ban must have seemed a “sick joke”, says Ross Clark in The Spectator. A few days earlier, the company had emailed its customers asking them to be a “hot spell hero” and do their best to save water. Yet Thames Water itself lost five million litres during the leak – and last year in all, 600 million litres a day. The figure lost for England as a whole is three billion litres a day, a fifth of the total supplied.
When Mrs Thatcher privatised the water companies in 1989, the aim was to introduce competition, reduce consumer prices and encourage investment. None of these objectives have been fulfilled. Spending on infrastructure has dropped and our bills have increased by 31%. Not a single substantial reservoir has been constructed in England since the Kielder Water dam in 1981. Yet £72bn has been paid out to shareholders. Inevitably, current shortages are blamed on climate change – yet Britain is in fact getting wetter. Summer rainfall for the period 2012-21 was up 15% on the period 1961-90. The truth is that water companies operate as “localised monopolies” while their executives, like Thames Water’s Sarah Bentley (basic salary: £750,000), are more like overpaid civil servants than capitalists. Meanwhile we have to endure “infantile messaging, rationing and the pernicious suggestion that we should grass on our neighbours”.